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Thursday 31 May 2018

AccorHotels completes takeover of rival Mantra hotel group

AccorHotels today announced that it has completed its acquisition of Mantra Group for $1.2 billion. 

The deal includes the Mantra, Peppers, BreakFree and Art Series hotel brands, representing a total of 138 hotels in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Bali.

Michael Issenberg, chairman and CEO of AccorHotels Asia Pacific said: “The Mantra Group is the latest chapter in the strong growth story of AccorHotels in the region.  Since our launch with the Novotel Sydney on Darling Harbour in 1991, AccorHotels has become the largest hotel group in the Pacific, and Australia has always played a key role in that story.

“AccorHotels is a significant contributor to the Australian tourism industry, and this deal is a signal of our confidence in Australia both as an attractive destination for global travellers but also as a feeder market for our Asia Pacific and wider network.”

Simon McGrath and Michael Issenberg celebrate at Peppers Soul, Gold Coast
 At the close of the deal, AccorHotels will operate over 330 hotels and resorts across Australia and over 900 throughout Asia Pacific. AccorHotels will also be the largest employer on the Gold Coast, outside of government.

Simon McGrath, COO of AccorHotels Pacific said, “The Mantra Group brands will enhance AccorHotels’ portfolio and create new opportunities for our people, partners and guests. We believe that tourism is critical to the economic growth of the region and future job creation and this deal will allow us to further develop the industry.”

McGrath added that innovative growth was a hallmark of both AccorHotels and the Mantra Group. 

“Our innovation in economic business models, brands and customer initiatives has fueled our growth over the last 27 years and the Mantra Group has built an innovative business focused on the best partnership experience for its 10,000 strata title owners,” he said.  

“Under Bob East’s leadership this bespoke approach and responsiveness has seen it maintain and grow rooms under management.  We see enormous value in leveraging Mantra Group’s entrepreneurial spirit and expertise to create new opportunities.

“Mantra’s brands and properties perfectly complement the AccorHotels network and will enable us to provide new destinations and new experiences for our guests. We look forward to combining the talent and expertise of both groups to create an even more innovative, agile and dynamic team.”

Bob East, CEO of Mantra Group said, “I am immensely proud of the great company we’ve built and what we’ve achieved as an Australian-based business. It’s been an enjoyable journey for me leading the team since 2007 through to our float on the ASX in 2014 and now closing this deal with AccorHotels.  I have enormous belief in the business and the team here is looking forward to working with Simon and AccorHotels to continue this success.”

The Mantra Group leadership team will continue to be based in the Gold Coast office, reporting to McGrath, in line with all other AccorHotels Pacific business units.

Whether this diluting of competition will be good for hotel guests remains to be seen. 

Queensland gets its first vineyard glamping experience

Queensland’s first winery glamping experience has officially opened at Sirromet Wines estate, 40 minutes from Brisbane and the Gold Coast, in picturesque Mt Cotton.

Family-owned Sirromet Winery, known for helping put Queensland wines on the national map, has officially opened stage one of Sanctuary by Sirromet, which consists of 18 up-market tented pavilions.

“We have wanted to create a unique accommodation offering here at Sirromet for some time and Sanctuary by Sirromet is both in keeping with the natural surroundings whilst offering that extra level of comfort that couples, families and bridal parties are looking for,” said Sirromet owner Terry Morris (Sirromet is TE Morris backwards).  

Approval has been given for 54 sites in total, scattered over a 20-acre area which will take shape over the next 12 months.  On completion, Sirromet will have invested over $10 million into the new tourism infrastructure.

“We are concentrating on the first 18 sites for now to ensure the product offering is perfected for our guests before we start planning further sites,” said general manager Rod Hill. 

Rates will start from $280 to $480 per night (minimum two-night stay) including accommodation and locally sourced breakfast hamper offering French butter croissants with jam and butter, all-natural strawberry yoghurt pots with granola, followed by house smoked salmon accompanied with bagel, cream cheese and capers with Sirromet-blended coffee and fresh juices.

Sanctuary by Sirromet allows guests to escape the everyday and connect with nature.  The tented pavilions are located hillside following the natural contour down to the lagoon which is home to a variety of native wild life and surrounded by paperbark trees and giant scribbly gums.  Each has a private balcony floating above the landscape, giving guests a 'tree house' impression looking across the canopy and over the lake. 

The site is home to a large population of wildlife, including kookaburras, goannas, owls, a large variety of native birds and resident wallabies who graze freely around and under the decks as guests take in the views over a breakfast hamper or with a glass of wine as the sun goes down. 

The 18 spacious tents, comprised of 15 couples’ tents, two for families and one specially fitted out bridal suite, are made from durable double-layered all-weather canvas and offer a natural yet elegant décor in keeping with the surroundings.  

The interiors feature luxurious beds with top of the line linen and bedding, bedside tables and lamps, and reverse cycle air-conditioning to cater for all seasons.  

Two large day chairs inside as well as outdoor table and chairs will allow guests to relax and enjoy a Sirromet wine from the mini-bar.  All tents feature an en-suite bathroom with vanity, shower and toilet and  touches like hair dryers, irons and free wi-fi will also be available.  The tents are ‘TV-free’. 
Guests can choose to enjoy their meals at any of the three on-site venues at Sirromet including The Cellar Door Café for casual dining; Tuscan Terrace, an Italian inspired alfresco restaurant; and Restaurant Lurleen’s, an award-winning fine dining experience.  All are located a short five-minute walk or mini-buggy ride from the Sanctuary site.
For bookings and further information visit

Wednesday 30 May 2018

New video marks 90 years of De Bortoli Wines

Ninety years ago, when Italian migrant Vittorio De Bortoli turned some unwanted shiraz grapes into wine for family and friends, little did he know he was starting one of Australia’s largest and best-loved family-owned wineries.

Vittorio had just bought a fruit farm near Griffith in the New South Wales Riverina region, a few years after emigrating from war-torn Northern Italy with dreams of building a better life. He was soon joined in Australia by his fiancee Giuseppina.

To mark 90 years and four generations of family winemaking, the De Bortoli Wines story has been captured in a video being released today.

As key family members pass around a glass of wine, the short video brings to life the story behind each person’s commitment and unique talents and passions that continue to contribute to every aspect involved in building and running a true family business.

“Our family is incredibly proud to be carrying on the work of our grandfather Vittorio and our father Deen in pushing the boundaries of winemaking to produce premium wines that are enjoyable to everyone and which our business is known for,” says Darren De Bortoli, managing director of De Bortoli Wines.

“From our iconic Noble One, which is now one of the world’s most awarded wines, to igniting Australia’s love of pale, dry rosé with the Rosé Revolution, and producing exciting new wine styles for the modern adventurous wine drinker, we are committed to fulfilling their legacy to ensure De Bortoli Wines remains at the forefront of winemaking innovation.”

Launched in 2016, the new brand logo is designed to give the range of wines a contemporary new look.

De Bortoli now operates across five Australian winemaking regions in NSW and Victoria and over the past 12 years has been a sustainability leader.

There is a plan to convert 10 to 15% of the Riverina vineyards to organic in five years.

De Bortoli will be celebrating its 90th milestone at the 2018 Good Food and Wine Show from June to October across four states. Also look out for a special limited edition 90th Anniversary fortified wine in early June.

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Australia has its first hemp gin - and it is from Tasmania

Australia has its first hemp-infused gin with the release of a new limited-edition from Tasmanian boutique distillery Nonesuch. 

Nonesuch founder Rex Burdon, whose distillery is at Forcett on the road to the Tasman Peninsula, says the new Hemp Gin "continues the Nonesuch commitment to developing amazing spirits with complex and amazing taste and complexity".

Made in the old Dutch style, the gin can be enjoyed neat, over ice or in a cocktail.

It is a double-distilled grain-based spirit crafted from barley, corn and rye combined with a second clear spirit that has been infused and re-distilled with several select botanicals, including Tasmanian hemp seeds.

The gin (which I have not yet tried) is described as "earthy, nutty and buttery with a lingering mellow finish". 

Only 120 bottles were made in the initial batch and they retail for $69. 

For details visit 

# Other companies are working on hemp gins, but this is the first go on sale. 

Monday 28 May 2018

Record Australian presence as Vinexpo kicks off. Discover why.

The largest-ever international celebration of Australian wine will be held at Vinexpo Hong Kong, Asia’s premier wine and spirits trade fair, for three days from Tuesday (May 29). 
Australia takes centre stage as ‘Country of Honour’ at the 20th anniversary of Vinexpo, and a record 151 exhibitors will be showcasing more than 225 Australian wine brands from 51 wine regions.
A showcase of this scale has been made possible by the Australian Government’s $50 million Export and Regional Wine Support Package.
The three-day program will celebrate Australia’s diverse and energetic wine scene, with more than 1,400 Australian wines presented, from world famous, award-winning wine brands to boutique wineries, many pioneering new styles, trends and grape varieties.
Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Anne Ruston, said the landscape for the Australian wine sector had never looked brighter. 
"Australia has an exceptional global wine reputation, and to have over 50 regions represented at Vinexpo reflects the strength of our industry," she said.
"Australia is honoured to be taking centre stage at Asia’s premier wine and spirits event, with the flow on effects to be felt by our wineries, producers and country towns.
"Importantly, rural and regional Australia, and the more than 170,000 people employed in the wine sector across the country will benefit from our national presence at the key trading event."
Wine Australia Chief Executive Officer Andreas Clark said the record showcase would help the 17,000 trade and media who are expected to attend understand what’s great about Australian wine and the authenticity, camaraderie and innovation of our Australian winemakers.
"Australia is a high-quality wine-producing nation and our winemakers have great stories to tell," he said.
"They’re at the forefront of innovation in experimenting with new grape varieties and different styles of wine-making.
"We’ll be shining the light on the diversity and premium quality of our wine, with an exciting program of master classes, wine tastings and keynote conferences." 
On the Australian wine stand there will be six regional bars and on-stand master classes focusing on the Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Margaret River, McLaren Vale, Orange and Yarra Valley.
James March from Barossa Grape and Wine said "the Barossa welcomes the opportunity to share our premium wines and engage with the 17,000 trade and media expected at Vinexpo Hong Kong 2018".
Coonawarra Vignerons Executive Officer, Olivia Nunn, will be accompanying the wineries featuring at the event and said: "Vinexpo is a fantastic platform for all seven wineries to showcase their wine internationally".
Speaking about the master classes, Amanda Whiteland from Margaret River Wine said "Margaret River is renowned for its world-class fine wines and we look forward to sharing these with the international wine trade".
Jennifer Lynch from the McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Association said: "McLaren Vale grapegrowers and winemakers embrace innovation and we are really excited to bring our terroir-driven wines to Vinexpo Hong Kong".
"Orange is delighted that our cool-climate wines are part of Australia’s largest-ever international wine showcase’, said Justin Jarrett, President of the Orange Region Vignerons Association.
Caroline Evans from Wine Yarra Valley said "the Yarra Valley has steadily grown in reputation to be globally recognised as a leading wine region and we look forward to connecting with new ambassadors for our wines".
Another highlight of the Vinexpo program will be a conference that explains how Australia protects the reputation and ensures the legitimacy of exported Australian wine. The session, ‘Ensuring authenticity and integrity of Australian wine’, will delve into recent changes to regulations that have strengthened Wine Australia’s ability to prevent the export of ‘copycat’ wine brands.
Additional sessions will focus on Australia’s 19th-century colonial vine stock heritage – one of the most fascinating stories in the world of wine – and the Langton’s Classification system, a ‘form guide’ of Australia’s best-performing and most-prized wines.
Throughout the trade show, guests can join intimate tastings with some of the master class presenters and winemakers at the Australian Wine Tasting Bar’. They can also discover the importance of aroma in tasting wine at the ‘Aroma Wall’, a unique sensory and interactive experience.
The Australian wine stand is the Happy Hour venue from 5.30pm each day, where guests can enjoy a glass of wine and meet some of the winemakers and other exhibitors.
In keeping with ‘Country of Honour’ tradition, Australia will also partner exclusively with The Blend, Vinexpo’s official networking party for 1,300 exhibitors from 30 countries, to showcase Australian wines at themed bars in the Grand Foyer of Level 3 on May 30 from 6.30–9 pm.
China is Australia’s number one and fastest growing export market by value. For the year to March 2018, exports of Australian wine to China (including Hong Kong and Macau) increased by 51% to $1.04 billion (equivalent to 20 million 9-litre cases) – a first for exports to a single country.

Looking for a glass of wine in Australia? This is a useful list.

The people behind the Young Gun of Wine award has now released its first Wineslinger list, a new initiative that uncovers some of the best venues in Australia for a fun wine experience.

The Top 50 venues across Australia for 2018 have been decided, voted by over 100 of Australia’s leading sommeliers and winemakers, and then whittled down to the Top 50 by the panel and editorial directors Nick Stock and Mike Bennie.

“These panelists are selected for their know-how, their taste, and the fact that they are out and about visiting venues near and far on a constant basis," said director Nick Stock. 
"They are chosen because they have a keen eye, a killer palate and they know a good time when they see one.” 

Over 300 venues in Australia received votes from the panel. The Top 50 list is made up of pubs, bars and restaurants, but what ties them together is an excellence in creating an environment where wine enjoyment is the hero. 

All must have "approachability, energy and adventure".

The Bentley Bar and Restaurant, Sydney 
“Australia offers one hell of a good time for wine lovers and there’s a high bar of quality in a national sense, married with a strong sense of identity and place wherever you go," Stock said. 

"That makes this list one very handy reference for both locals and visitors right across the country.” 

Voting for the people's choice Top 50 is now open at and closes on June 17. The Young Gun of Wine Awards will be unveiled at MONA in Tasmania on June 18. 

The judges' Top 50: 

New South Wales
10 William St, Paddington
Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Sydney
Bibo Wine Bar, Double Bay
Dear Sainte Éloise, Points Point
Ester, Chippendale
Fix Wine Bar, Sydney
Fratelli Paradiso, Potts Point
Harvest Newrybar, Newrybar
Love, Tilly Devine, Darlinghurst
Monopole Restaurant & Bar, Potts Point
Restaurant Hubert, Sydney
The Dolphin Hotel, Surry Hills

Bar Liberty, Fitzroy
Bellota, South Melbourne
Carlton Wine Room, Carlton
City Wine Shop, Melbourne
Embla, Melbourne
France Soir, South Yarra
Gerald's Bar, North Carlton
Gertrude Enoteca, Fitzroy
Kirk’s Wine Bar, Melbourne
Marion, Fitzroy
Neighbourhood Wine, Brunswick
The Alps, Prahran

South Australia
Bar Torino, Adelaide
Clever Little Tailor, Adelaide
East End Cellars, Adelaide
Hellbound Wine Bar, Adelaide
La Buvette, Adelaide
Mother Vine, Adelaide
The Summertown Aristologist, Summertown

Western Australia
Bille H, Claremont
Budburst Small Bar, Mount Hawthorn
Il Lido, Cottesloe
Lalla Rookh, Perth
Petition Wine Bar & Merchant, Perth
Settler’s Tavern, Margaret River

BlackBird Bar & Grill, Brisbane
Cru Bar and Cellar, Fortitude Valley
Gauge, South Brisbane
Gerard's Bistro, Fortitude Valley
La Lune Wine Co, South Brisbane

Ettie’s Bar & Bottleshop, Hobart
Franklin, Hobart
Institut Polaire, Hobart
Willing Bros. Wine Merchants, North Hobart

Aubergine, Griffith
Bar Rochford, Canberra
XO, Narrabundah

Northern Territory
Stone House, Darwin

Sunday 27 May 2018

Superstar chef Neil Perrry moves his Burger Project upmarket

Spurred by the success of his Burger Project eateries in Sydney and Melbourne, irrepressible chef Neil Perry is poised to take the program upmarket.

Perry will launch Black Label by Burger Project in Sydney on Monday (May 28) with a menu of premium burgers, breakfast items, salads and alcoholic milkshakes.

Located at Grosvenor Place, the restaurant described by Perry's PR team as "cool and sleek, with dark timber finishes and chocolate leather furnishings".

The Black Label menu will feature seven different gourmet burgers including the Black Label burger; a Cape Grim grass-fed beef and triple-smoked bacon pattie layered with pickled jalapenos, cheese, fresh onions, lettuce and tomato, drizzled with a secret sauce.

Other choices include Henrietta; a butter-milk-brined chicken burger with crunchy, cabbage, cheese,tomato, pickle, onions and zingy house-made Sriracha mayonnaise, while Native features a Paroo Kangaroo and Cape Grim grass-fed beef pattie, lemon myrtle mayonnaise, spiced native quandong and bush tomato sauce.

Vegans can get their fix with Zeppelin, a moist chickpea and zucchini pattie topped with layers of beetroot, tomato, lettuce, tangy zucchini pickles and house-made tomato relish, on a gluten-free vegan bun.

Waffle-cut chips, onion rings and a range of speciality dips and sauces are among the sides.

Diners can choose between three salads, all of which can be protein-boosted with poached chicken breast or a chickpea and zucchini pattie.

Black Label's sit-down and takeaway breakfast menu is accompanied by coffees from cult Sydney roaster Mecca Coffee, serving house blend, special blend and nitro coffee on tap, a cold, frothy brew infused with nitrogen gas.

Coffee is free with any breakfast purchase throughout the opening week, with $1 coffee with a breakfast purchase in June.

Chocolate, peanut butter, salted caramel and strawberries and cream are just a few of the flavours on an 'adult shakes' menu, which means they can be mixed with a choice of spirits, including Belvedere, Jack Daniels and Campari (why no artisan Australian choices, I wonder?).

Beer lovers fare better with craft choices including Young Henrys, Stone and Wood, Hope Brewhouse, and Balter.

Guests can also enjoy 11 local wines by the bottle, or two reds and whites by the glass each.

Rockpool Dining Group Culinary Director Neil Perry said the menu combines a variety of beautiful flavours and top-quality ingredients and explored a range of exciting new options.

"We're using fresh ingredients, make specific elements in-house, and have teamed up with local producers to showcase the best Australia has to offer,” he said. “The mix of vegan, Asian and classic burger styles, as well as produce such as kangaroo, native ingredients and superfoods, makes this menu uniquely delicious.”

Black Label by Burger Project is located at Grosvenor Place Courtyard, 225 George St, Sydney, and will be open Monday to Friday, 7am-10pm, and Saturdays 11am-10pm, with breakfast available every weekday, 7am-11am.

For more information:


A very special Quartz Reef wine dinner at a special venue

Rudi Bauer
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit the Quartz Reef vineyard for a chat with winemaker Rudi Bauer about biodynamics, and then a day later to attend a wine dinner at The Rees Hotel, Queenstown, hosted by Mischa's Vineyard.

It was an exceptional experience and part of the hotel's Winemaker’s Culinary Series Dinner, hosted by urbane GM and wine expert Mark Rose.

The next dinner in that series will feature Quartz Reef, whose quality wines will be matched with dishes from True South Dining Room's award-winning chef Ben Batterbury.

The Rees Winemaker’s Culinary Series Dinner with Quartz Reef Wines and Bauer, the world's funniest Austrian (above) will be held in Saturday, August 4 and feature six wines and five courses, including some surprises.

An excellent-value The Rees Residential Package for $NZ335 per person includes a one-night stay in the lake-view room, breakfast for two and two tickets to the dinner.

Additional nights can be added for an extra $NZ355 per room, per night, including breakfasts. It might be time to book some flights to Queenstown.

For bookings and inquiries phone +64 3450 1100 or email

Culinary dinners for the remainder of the year will feature Felton Road on September 28 and Dry River on November 10.


Saturday 26 May 2018

The next departure from Daylesford will be heading to the wine platform

Innovative Passing Clouds at Musk, outside Daylesford, will soon be the first winery in Australia to have a train pulling in to its own station. 

A collaboration between Passing Clouds and Spa Country Railway, co-funded by Regional Development Victoria’s Wine Growth Fund, will see visitors be able to arrive by train at Passing Clouds. 

Passing Clouds is already known as one of Victoria's best food and wine destinations - and the new platform should further increase its popularity. 

The initiative led by Passing Clouds’ Cameron and Marion Leith is designed to create a unique experience for wine tourists and includes a complete re-build of the Passing Clouds cellar door, which is six kilometres from the thriving spa town of Daylesford.

Passing Clouds, part of the Macedon Ranges wine region, produces some of the best cool climate wines in the region and offers a complete tourism experience with a new cellar door, popular dining room, winery and vineyard.

“In just two short years since we opened the dining room at Passing Clouds, visitation to the estate has increased exponentially and the demand for the small space we had available for cellar door visitors was being pushed to its limits," says owner Cameron Leith. 

"The new cellar door allows visitors to take in the whole Passing Clouds experience in a fabulous new, modern, inclusive, open space. We couldn’t be happier to know visitors will now get the full experience when they visit us.” 

The new cellar door has incredible views of one of the region's highest-altitude vineyards and a seamless light-filled space now integrates the dining room and cellar door experience. While walk in tastings are always available, Passing Clouds encourages bookings which can include a seated tasting and share platters. 

Together with Spa Country Railway and with the funding provided by the Wine Growth Fund, a railway platform has been constructed at the bottom of the Passing Clouds estate and a new stop has been added to the regular timetable, making Passing Clouds a "must visit" destination for wine enthusiasts. It also takes away the risks associated with drink driving.

“We aim to further increase patronage with our collaboration with the Spa Country Railway and the new Passing Clouds platform at Musk adjoining our property which will be a stop on the regular train route will add a remarkable and unique experience for wine tourists," Leith says. 

Passing Clouds will soon launch a range of "ultimate food and wine packages" with train transfers including VIP tastings and lunch with matching wines at the dining room.
Passing Clouds’ new cellar door is open seven days a week 10am-5pm. The Dining Room is open Friday to Monday for lunch from noon. Bookings essential on (03) 5348 5550 or

Friday 25 May 2018

Americans: Are you ready for green ant cheese from Australia?

The world of gourmet food gets wackier by the day with the growing popularity of a soft goat cheese (chevre) topped with green ants.

Made in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia by Woodhill Cheese Wrights, the quirky cheese made has previously been available in limited numbers in Australia but is now set to be exported to the United States.

New technology to extend the shelf-life of the product has been implemented and the company is hoping to send the product with its next shipment to New York in about two weeks' time pending final FDA approval.

Sourced from Crocodile Dundee country in the Top End of Australia, green ants have been eaten by indigenous Australians for thousands of years and are becoming increasingly popular as a native food.

Head cheesemaker and CEO Kris Lloyd (pictured) described the taste of the ants, also called weaver ants, as tasting like a combination of kaffir lime and lemongrass “that give a little citrus pop almost like having a sherbet”

Kris Lloyd
The “super creamy” chevre is at its best at five days old and is high in acid with a pH level of about 4.2.

“It just comes together beautifully, there’s this great marriage of acid flavours that just work,” Lloyd said. “There’s no other cheese in the world that has green ants on it and it tastes amazing.”

The Adelaide Hills, about 30 kilometres east of the South Australian capital Adelaide, is emerging as a world-renowned region for premium wine, cheese and fresh produce.

Woodside Cheese Wrights began using native Australian ingredients in their products about 15 years ago and have cheeses infused with a range of bush foods including lemon myrtle, saltbush, pepper berries and edible flowers.

The company's cheeses are sold in New York, Connecticut, Michigan and California through retailers including Dean & DeLuca.

“I want to be creative by taking ingredients from our own backyard and use them in our cheese making – it’s what we should be doing in Australia instead of copying everything that the French, the Greeks and the Italians are doing." said Lloyd.

“I’m new world, nobody is telling me I can’t put ants on my cheese. I haven’t got an appellation of origin control that tells me that the cow needs to be pointing this way and the moon needs to be shining that way before I can milk and make our cheese.”

Lloyd is hopeful the green ant cheese will be well received by Americans and drive further export growth, possibly into other markets such as the United Kingdom and Asia.

“For us to grow in the United States it will just come down to our ability to maintain the high quality of the products,” she said.

“The appeal is there, the cheeses they have chosen are quite unique and if we are going to put Australian food culture on the map this is probably the way to go about it.”

Thursday 24 May 2018

The worst job in travel: trying to market a spectacular destination

Overseas tourists are staying away from the beautiful resorts of the Philippines in their droves, scared of making bookings and then losing their money.

When the resort of Boracay was closed in April for a six-month clean-up, authorities cancelled pre-booked trips and also refused to refund the payments.

The European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) found interest was low when it sent a group on a tourism mission in Europe earlier this month aimed at promoting the Philippines as a tourism destination.

ECCP president Guenter Taus said concerns followed President Rodrigo Duterte administration’s decision to shut down Boracay to address the island’s environmental issues.

“It was clearly verbalised when we were there," Taus told the Phillippines Daily Enquirer newspaper. "They said if they (the Government) can close one island, they can close any island, any time,” he said.

Taus said it had become harder to pitch the Philippines to tour operators, especially given the experience of some who couldn’t get their money refunded because the island closure was deemed force majeure.

Force majeure refers to a clause in contracts that removes liability for unavoidable catastrophes that interrupt the expected course of events, restricting participants from fulfilling obligations, according to the world’s largest financial education website Investopedia.

“But it’s not force majeure because it was closed by the Government,” Taus said.

“You’re a tourist operator and you have 500 people booked and then they tell you, ‘Sorry. The island is closed. Get lost and you don’t get your money back'.”

ECCP, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, is still trying to convince tour operators in the European Union to look at other parts of the Philippines, despite their concerns.

Many of the tourists headed for Boracay and other Pinoy destinations opted instead for popular destinations in other Asian countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, Tuas said.


Wednesday 23 May 2018

You don't have to spend a fortune to enjoy paradise

After reviewing a five-star property in Krabi, I had intended to return to familiar ground in Phuket to do some writing for two projects that had stalled. 

A couple of days at Railay Beach caused me to change me mind, however, and seek out some local budget accommodation. After looking at a couple of 2-3 star hotels I settled on the Railay Viewpoint Resort, where I have been living in a small villa for several days.

As I'm paying an off-season rate of 900 baht ($37) a night I didn't expect much, but I'm thoroughly enjoying my home away from home. 

I've noticed some complaints on websites about a lack of cleanliness at Viewpoint, and also unfriendly staff. My experience has been exactly the opposite. 

My villa, just a 100 metres from the waterfront at Railay East has a comfortable bed, air conditioning, good wifi (although it was once knocked out by a tropical storm), a fridge, TV with CNN and a wet/room shower that always has hot water. 

I'm provided with fresh bottles of water every day, clean towels and my room is serviced every day, or second day, depending on my needs. 

There is a good resort swimming pool just 10 metres from my door and all the mini-marts, massage shops and eateries are within a short walk. Its nice to sit on my balcony and watch the world go by.

There are more expensive rooms than the one I am in with more modern bathrooms and facilities (below) but my villa is just fine for basic accommodation.

Railay East has mangrove swamps and is not suitable for swimming, but just 350 metres away is Railay West, with its several chic resorts and clean sand beaches. The two are linked by Walking Street, a laneway of restaurants, Reggae Bars and juice bars and more massage places.

Railay, which can be reached only long-tail boat or speedboat from Chao Fa Pier from Krabi, Ao Nang or Ao Nam Mao, is popular with day trippers because of its laidback vibe. Dinner will cost you around 100 baht ($4) and there are no loud go-go bars, hustlers or discos. The massage places are totally legit. 

Don't even think of buying a bottle of wine, however, with taxes meaning a bottle of Jacob's Creek Chardonnay will cost you 50 bucks. The local Singha beer ($3.50) does the trick instead.   

The views are spectacular around these parts with striking limestone cliffs, and clean water that is frequented by squid boats at night. 

The perfect setting for a few days of relaxation. 

Railay Viewpoint Hotel, +66 82 4299 090. 

New codeshare deal between Qantas and Air France

Qantas and Air France customers will now have more options to travel between Europe and Australia via Asia following a re-ignited code share agreement between the two airlines. 

Available for booking from June 5 for flights starting from July 20, Air France will add its code to Qantas flights between Hong Kong and Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and between Singapore and Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

Air France customers will also be able to access code share services from Sydney to five cities on the Australian airline's domestic network including Canberra, Hobart, Adelaide, Cairns and Darwin.

Under the reciprocal deal, Qantas will add its code to flights operated by Air France between Singapore and Hong Kong and Paris-Charles de Gaulle, as a continuation of flights from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.

The new agreement will see the two airlines code share on a total of more than 200 flights per week.

In real terms, Qantas fliers might find themselves on an Air France flight - and vice versa, so it will be to check bookings carefully if you have a strong preference for one over the other. 

The airlines' spin is that customers will benefit from more seamless travel experiences with single-ticket itineraries and through-checked baggage as well as the opportunity to earn points on the new code share services.

Air France eligible customers will also be able to access Qantas lounges in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, as well as Qantas eligible customers to Air France lounges in Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Patrick Alexandre, EVP commercial sales and alliances at Air France-KLM, said: "We are very pleased to be re-establishing a partnership with Qantas. Thanks to this agreement, the Air France-KLM group will be able to offer one of the best possible travel solutions for its customers from Europe to Australia. 

"It will also deliver a better travel experience for our business customers, with connections in Singapore and Hong Kong, two of the most popular airports in the world. This new co-operation confirms our group's desire to expand in the Asia-Pacific region."

Alison Webster, CEO of Qantas International, added: "This is great news for our customers who want to travel to Europe via Asia, giving them another option to get to Paris and more opportunities to earn Frequent Flyer Points. The return of this popular code share delivers on our strategy of partnering to provide customers with access to an expanded network and more seamless travel experiences wherever they want to fly."  

Tuesday 22 May 2018

Join Tasmanians for seasonal wine lunches in a snug wine cellar

Tasmania used to go to sleep for much of its long winter. Now it is alive with myriad festivals.
Moores Hill winery in the Tamar Valley has decided to join in the winter fun by combining with the Vineyard Seafood team for a series of set seasonal lunches in their snug barrel room. All will feature local producers, who will be on hand to answer questions. 
The opportunity to meet, chat and dine with featured farmers and fishermen from Tasmania’s Northern region - and with Moores Hill winemaker Julian Allport - will cost $95 per head.

Seats for the intimate lunches are very limited so if you are interested in lunching on Sundays, June 3, July 8 or August 5 then you'd better be quick. 
The first lunch, on June 3, will feature abalone, beef and chocolate! There will be a four-course menu with matched wines,

Australia's First Families of Wine taking China seriously

Australia's First Families of Wine, a group of 12 of Australia's leading family-owned wineries, is taking the growing Chinese market very, very seriously.

AFFW members are heading to Hong Kong to participate in Wine Australia’s feature program at Vinexpo 2018, then staying on in the region to be part of Wine Australia’s China Roadshow 2018.

Vinexpo is the primary industry event for wine and spirit specialists in the Asia-Pacific region and AFFW will have the opportunity to feature new products whilst networking with importers, distributors and sommeliers and telling their various vinous tales.

The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre will host Vinexpo Asia 2018 from May 29-31 and the China Roadshow 2018; a tour that connects Australian wine exhibitors with influential Chinese importers, distributors, wholesalers and media in the four key cities of Shenyang, Wuhan, Jinan and Shanghai runs from June 4-11.

Australia is ‘Country Of Honour’ at this year’s Vinexpo exhibition and this year sees a five-fold increase in floor space for Australian wine compared to Vinexpo Hong Kong 2016.

The Australian contingent will showcase of 140 exhibitors representing over 35 wine regions. The 12 families of AFFW will be featured together, under their own banner, as part of the larger Australian contingent.

Among the range of educational masterclasses featuring throughout Vinexpo will be AFFW’s signature tasting, named UNLOCKED, a panel masterclass tasting featuring the wines that have put AFFW’s families on the map.

These include the 2005 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon; 1999 Tahbilk 1860 Vines Shiraz; 2008 Henschke Hill of Grace and Campbells Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat.

While a familiar concept at home, this is the first time that UNLOCKED has been presented outside of Australia. The AFFW panel will feature different generations of the families and each will share the history, provenance and stories behind their families and the wines that they craft.

Similarly, the China Roadshow 2018 will offer AFFW the opportunity to network with important Chinese importers and media.

Thanks in part to the recent free trade agreement, Australian wine exports to China have surged 63% in 2017 to $848 million - more than total sales to the United States and United Kingdom combined.

AFFW Chairman Bruce Tyrrell from the Hunter Valley’s Tyrrells Wines, believes the boom will continue.

“China remains Australia’s largest export market and is still showing strong growth at all price points," he said.

"Importantly it is growing at the higher price points. Australia is best placed to continue to grow in China as they like our styles and we are seen as a close and safe destination for tourism. Tourism gives our industry that opportunity to convert these visitors into Australian converts and have a thorough understanding of our premium wine offering.”

The 12 members of AFFW are: Brown Brothers, Campbells, d’Arenberg, De Bortoli Wines, Henschke, Howard Park, Jim Barry Wines, McWilliam’s Wines, Tahbilk, Taylors, Tyrrell’s Wines and Yalumba.


Sunday 20 May 2018

Slicing and dicing in paradise

The super-relaxed Thai resort of Krabi offers rare beachfront luxury at the legendary Rayavadee resort - and along with that luxury comes options. Lots of options. 

Quite a few people come to Rayavadee for the rock climbing and jungle trekking; most, however, are here to chill. 

Activities on offer include speedboat charters to surrounding islands, diving, water sports, elephant riding, tennis and squash courts, yoga, Thai boxing, a well-equipped gym and a luxurious spa offering a range of treatments. 

I opted, however, for an individual cooking class that was perhaps the most rewarding cooking class I've ever had. One-on-one with chef Salma, I learnt more about slicing, dicing and curry pastes than I ever have before. 

The benefit of doing a solo cooking class is that you can move at your own pace; ask for clarification or an explanation without feeling like a complete goose.

This being Rayavadee, one of Thailand's premier resorts, my class takes place on a terrace overlooking the Andaman Sea. It is hard not to be enthused in such a beautiful setting. 

Chatty Salma speaks perfect English, so is confident enough to makes small changes to traditional recipes (she comes from the south), or at my request. 

Guests can choose which dishes they want to cook in concert with Salma (it felt more like a group effort than a class) and I opted for prawn cakes, pad Thai and red duck curry. All of which turned out rather well, I hope you agree. 

We taste the ingredients as we go. A little more lemongrass, a tad less galangal. I learn to chiffonade and stir better than I have before - and without landing the ingredients on the floor.  

The hands-on approach to learning is followed by a sit-down lunch and my dishes really did taste restaurant quality.

You leave with your cooking apron and a comprehensive guide to Thai spices and recipes. And, in my case, a renewed appetite for cooking. 

Classes are available for between one to six people and other dish options include the likes of beef salad with herbs, chicken in green curry and spicy tom yang goong soup.

Rayavadee, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World group, is a resort for those looking for an authentic experience; a slice of nature along with a big dollop of indulgence. There is a sense here of being somewhere really special.

A full resort review will follow shortly.

Rayavadee, 214 Moo 2, Tumbon Ao Nang, Amphoe Muang, Krabi 81000. +6675 620 740. 

# The author was a guest of Rayavadee.