Book, stay, enjoy. That's

Tuesday 30 April 2019

How much would you pay for lounge access at an airport?

How much is lounge access at an airport worth to you?

I ask after seeing a press release announcing airport lounge operator No.1 Lounges has announced a new location at London Luton Airport - a facility largely used by low-cost carriers and charter flights including RyanAir and EasyJet.

The new lounge will open in July as the Clubrooms, with an introductory rate of £29 (just over $53) for all comers, not matter what airline they are using, or their class of travel. From September 30, the price will rise to £36 ($66).

Now that seems like quite a lot for the average leisure flyer to pay for a couple of drinks, a meal, and wifi when a flight to Dublin only costs $72. Oh, but also throw in the peace and quiet, with children under 12 barred from entry, the power-charging facilities, glossy magazines and a personal waiter.

I can see business travellers splashing out on somewhere to do some work, but $66 seems like quite a lot for someone flying to Canary Islands for a week of sunshine. 

Particularly as you might get kicked out - or asked to pay more - if your flight is delayed by a couple of hours. But I may be wrong.

The new lounge is located next to the main departure area, with easy access to all gates.

But wait, guests can also upgrade their visit in advance with free-flowing Moët & Chandon or Veuve Clicquot Champagne packages for an extra £10. That sounds like a recipe for disaster to me, with free drinks often leading to free drunkenness.

No.1 also operates at Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham and Edinburgh airports. Its arrival at Luton comes at a time of rapid expansion for the company, which also recently opened lounges in Sydney and Melbourne.

Monday 29 April 2019

When failed technology causes travel chaos

Technology has seen airlines, airports and hotels cut their staff and rely on computers for many tasks. But what happens when things go wrong?

Chaos is the answer as these entities find themselves without enough staff to cope if a computer system crashes. Who pays the price? Travellers.

US airlines yesterday suffered a system-wide ticketing failure, leaving some passengers unable to book tickets or check in online or at airport kiosks.

Airlines that were affected include American Airlines, Alaska Air, WestJet and JetBlue.

Earlier in the week, an Australian Border Force system outage caused major delays at international airports across Australia, affecting passengers departing from and landing in the country.

SmartGate epassport control machines were down at all international airports, causing lengthy delays and huge queues. There were, apparently, no back-up systems in place. 

Many travellers complained of extensive delays, posting photos on social media showing large queues snaking throughout terminals.

An Australian Border Force spokesperson said his organisation was working with the Department of Home Affairs "to resolve an IT systems outage impacting inbound and outbound passenger processing at international airports".

"Additional ABF staff have been deployed to process passengers and to minimise delays," the spokesperson said in a statement."Passengers are encouraged to arrive at airports early to allow additional time for processing."

Customs staff patrolled queues, providing updates about the wait times. 

ABF controls the SmartGate passport machines, which use facial recognition technology along with ePassports to check travellers' identities.

Meanwhile, a five-hour shutdown of Air India's check-in software, which occurred on Saturday morning, was still causing its ripple effect with 137 flights delayed on Sunday.

The average duration of delay would be over three hours. 

Air India's passenger service system software, which looks after check-in, baggage and reservation, did not function for over five hours.

Sunday 28 April 2019

Using Premier League football to sell an entire city

When Norwich City clinched promotion back to the English Premier League over the weekend with a 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers, the entire east of England city was celebrating business opportunities.

Norwich's team was relegated from the Premier League in 2016 and has played in the second-tier Championship ever since, reducing global visibility and business options.

The Eastern Daily Press newspaper is reporting on the new opportunities the increased exposure will bring both Norwich and the county of Norfolk, one of the least populated in England.

“I have hotel clients who saw an upturn in overnight stays when we were in the Premier League previously," public relations expert Suzy Pettican told the newspaper.

"It will be fantastic for the city - and businesses should capitalise on the increased exposure.

"It is such a good opportunity for the city. It's the story of the underdog, the spirit of this city and a club which is so well-supported and loved by the fans operating with smaller budgets than many richer clubs.

“Now – we all hope – they've risen to the top and will be watched all over the world on various media platforms.”

Pippa Lain-Smith, managing director of Norwich PR agency Plain Speaking, said the story of Norwich City was given a global frame of reference thanks to promotion.

“The Premier League is the best football league in the world," she said. "Norwich City Football Club's promotion could bring a wide range of PR and marketing opportunities for Norfolk businesses if they are creative and smart.

“If you are marketing your business to a national or international audience, to people who might not even know where Norwich is, being able to use 'home to Premier League Football club Norwich City', immediately provides a point of reference that a lot of people will understand.

“Paid PR partnerships, sponsorships and promotions with Norwich City Football Club provide the opportunity for brands to reach millions more people. But activity has to be well-planned and executed and possible return on investment carefully considered.

“Norwich is already a fantastic city and being home to one of the 20 best football clubs adds a new dimension – businesses can now say with confidence that they are based in a premier destination.”

Andy Newman, managing director of Newman Associates PR, has identified some longer-term projects which Norwich could concentrate on during the attention.

“There is good evidence that having a Premier League football team leads to increased applications for places at a city's universities, assists businesses to widen their reach and it will certainly boost Norwich's position as an important tourism destination,” he said.

“Perception of a city is so important and there is considerable evidence that cities with a Premier League football team tend to be thought of as 'premier league' themselves – more cosmopolitan, more dynamic and a better place to do business.

"The team has done the hard work on the pitch. Now it's time for the rest of us to follow behind and take full advantage of Norwich's Premier League status.”

Mark Loveday, an owner of the Last Wine Bar, said: “The football club has such a huge following in the city that when the team is doing well, there is a palpable feel-good factor around Norwich, which extends beyond those who go to the matches – the whole city has a buzz about it.

"For restaurants like us, that means that people are more inclined to go out in the city, and to forget for a few hours all the uncertainties which are currently part of all of our lives.

“Being in the Premier League will mean a much higher profile for the city both in the rest of the UK and indeed across the globe. That translates into more visitors, which in turn means more people eating out, using the pubs, bars and restaurants in the city."

The wine bar is planning a special German dinner in honour of manager Daniel Farke and the German players who have contributed to the club's success this season.

Saturday 27 April 2019

UPDATE: Airline out of business

Troubled Brazilian airline Avianca Brasil has cancelled more than 1,000 flights over the past week after being forced to return almost 20 leased aircraft to their owners. 

Avianca refused to disclose exactly how many remaining aircraft it has, but is thought to be just seven, travel news website Travel Mole reported. 

At the beginning of April the airline scrapped several long-haul routes from Sao Paulo, including Miami and New York. Fresh cancellations include flights from Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro. 

Affected customers can submit requests for refunds or re-book through partner airlines as Avianca fights to avoid joining several small airlines that have recently gone out of business leaving customers stranded. 

Avianca Brasil filed for bankruptcy protection last December due to mounting debts including airport and lessor fees.

Some of the airline's assets, including valuable airport slots, are expected to be sold at auction early next month. Rival carriers Azul, LATAM and GOL are all vying for the slots.

Avianca was founded in 2002 as Ocean Air. 

UPDATE: All flights on bankrupt airline Avianca Brazil have been suspended indefinitely after Brazilian regulators grounded the airline. The Brazilian carrier, which is a member of Star Alliance, already cancelled thousands of flights last month after most of its aircraft were repossessed

Friday 26 April 2019

Craft beer all the rage in Cape Town

The Table Bay in Cape Town, one of the finest hotels on the continent, has become the first five-star hotel in South Africa to develop its own craft beer, conjunction with micro brewery Darling Brew.

The signature drink at this popular holiday destination for Australians and New Zealanders is an extreme lager named Slow Beer, which is complemented by an ever-growing range of Darling Brew beers with imaginative name including Silver Back, Rogue Pony, Gypsy Mask, Thunder Bird, Sungazer, Black Mist and Bone Crusher.

“International guests to Cape Town are especially keen to explore artisanal beers that are produced right here in the Western Cape,” said The Table Bay food and beverage manager Marc Weber.

“Trying locally produced food and drink makes their experience of the Cape more authentic.

“The market for craft beer in South Africa has exploded in recent years, perhaps a little behind the USA, Germany and the UK, but it has taken off.

“People are keen to explore more diverse, natural varieties of beer; the more local, the better.

“We love our guests to explore the authentic, unique, experiential activities that allow them to gather a touch of Cape Town and make good memories. Visiting local microbreweries and brew-pubs is one of them.”

Near The Table Bay, on historic Albert Road, in the heart of Cape Town's creative hub of Woodstock, stands a special nano brewery, Woodstock Brewers' Co-op, where 16 enthusiastic, talented brewers all brew under one roof.

Beer explorers visiting this fascinating co-op can enjoy a pint of Bugler's, Three Legged Cat, Dutch Courage, Hophazard and a dozen more, in the attached bar.

For information and bookings for The Table Bay, contact The Unique Tourism Collection on (02) 9211 6590.

# I stayed at The Table Bay a couple of years ago. It is an outstanding hotel. 

Meet the politician who wants to ban cold beer

A Mexican politician has attracted anger and scorn in equal measure after proposing legislation that would ban the sale of cold beer in stores across Mexico City. 
Local politician Maria de Lourdes Paz Reyes this week suggested a ban on cold beers and other beverages with 7% or less alcoholic content in Mexico City's convenience and grocery stores. 

She also outlined a rule for shop owners to display signs warning customers of public drinking penalties.

The aim of the law is to discourage alcohol consumption in Mexico City, and targets “chelerías”,  which sell litres of beer in seedy settings for low prices, Drinks Business reported.

“In this regard, prevention measures are recommended, including policies aimed at reducing consumption in large quantities or prior to carrying out hazardous activities such as driving,” Paz Reyes said. 

That prompted a wave of outrage at the “stupidity” of the idea.

The lawmaker claimed that alcohol is responsible for a significant proportion of disease in Mexico, and is related to 6.5% of premature deaths. She stated the patterns of consumption are changing, leading younger people and women to consume alcohol more frequently.

Mexico City’s convenience stores often sell cold beer in big bottles and provide plastic cups, which people use to consume the product on-site.

Many locals reacted ridiculed the idea, especially given the frequently high temperatures in Mexico City. 

The hashtag #ConLasCervezasNo (Don’t mess with our beers) began trending on Twitter. 

Thursday 25 April 2019

Sri Lanka insists it is a safe tourism destination

Sri Lankan Tourism officials are insisting that their country is open for business and that it is safe.

They issued a statement saying all possible measures have been taken to ensure the safety and security of tourists following the terror attacks on Easter Sunday that killed 253 people and wounded more than 500.

Despite that, I certainly wouldn't be visiting Sri Lanka any time soon.

Just two days ago, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe warned: there are more militants and explosives "out there".

So, who to believe, PM or tourism officials?

The tourism press release reads: "Sri Lanka Tourism is deeply shocked and saddened by the senseless violence and unreservedly condemns these dastardly acts. We offer our deepest sympathies and condolences to all the victims and their families, while wishing a speedy recovery to all those injured and currently receiving treatment.

"There is no place for terrorism of any kind in Sri Lanka and whoever that is responsible for the Easter Sunday violence will be hunted down and punished in the strongest possible manner. Sri Lanka Tourism looks forward to warmly welcome all those who have planned trips to the country in the days, weeks and months."

Tourism officials said following the immediate aftermath of the explosions, Sri Lanka Tourism deployed trained emergency response teams and its representatives at hospitals, affected hotels and the airport to assist tourists.

This included arranging hotel transfers, airline bookings, airport transfers, itinerary changes, hospital treatment, contacting their loved ones, and reuniting missing family members through diplomatic channels.

Tourism is worth almost $6 billion to Sri Lanka each year, accounting for almost 5% of the country's annual GDP. More than 800,000 jobs (around 10% of total employment in the country) depend on the sector, directly and indirectly.

The country's tourism industry slumped during the 1983 to 2009 Civil War but had been making a comeback.

The latest US Government travel advisory urges "increased caution".

"Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka," it said. The Australian website advised: "reconsider your need to travel".

That is advice worth following in the immediate future.

Re-live the magic and style of the steam train era

Visitors to England this summer will have the chance to re-live the magic of the steam train era. 

The Steam Dreams Rail Co. is launching The Royal Windsor Steam Express, which will be the first regular steam train service in modern history from London Waterloo to Windsor. 

The company is also launching the Sunset Steam Express, an evening dining experience through the picturesque Surrey Hills. 

Both services will operate from June 4 to September 3, 2019. 

The Royal Windsor Steam Express will leave Waterloo at 08.02, 11.10 and 14.10 every Tuesday.  There will be three classes of travel including elegant 1950s Pullman-style dining carriages as well as comfortable first class restaurant cars.

The journey will follow the same route of the trains that would transport members of the Royal Family from London to their castle in Windsor. First built in the 11th century, it is the largest continuously occupied castle in the world and home to English Kings and Queens from William the Conqueror to the present Elizabeth II.

Tickets start at £35 ($64) up to £85 ($156) for the Pullman-style dining experience with Champagne brunch. 

Table service for snacks and drinks will be available throughout the rest of the train and picnics are welcome. Tickets can be purchased online or at the station on the day.

The Sunset Steam Express will leave Waterloo Station for a four-hour round trip through the Surrey Hills – a designated n Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Dinner will be served en route in the elegant 1950s Pullman-style dining carriages.

The train will head south across the suburbs of London, pass through the historic cathedral town of Guildford and take the steep climb through the Surrey Hills before descending the Vale of Holmesdale and back to Waterloo via the market towns of Dorking and Reigate.

Prices from £99 ($182) to £129 ($237).  A standard ticket at £49 ($90) offers seating at tables where snacks can be purchased and picnics are welcome.

Trains on these experiences will usually be pulled by a B1 Class Locomotive - Mayflower - built in 1948 and sporting its original British Rail apple green livery.

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Former MasterChef fan favourite crafts her own restaurant

Former MasterChef fan favourite Sarah Clare is very hands-on as she prepares to launch her own restaurant in Tasmania in a few week's time. 

Gourmet on the Road caught up with Clare this week as she was painting the walls of the premises in Cygnet, in the Huon Valley, where she will launch Ilha, the Portuguese name for island. 

Clare took the keys for what was previously the School House Coffee Shop earlier this month and is completely re-designing the premises to highlight an open kitchen. 

Ilha will showcase local produce from fresh local fish ceviche to ducks, rabbits and wallaby, and will have a definite south American accent, featuring dishes and wines from Brazil and Argentina. 

The wine list will feature the best from Tasmania, the mainland and South America. 

Clare, a 33-year-old mother of one, was a top 10 contestant on MasterChef in 2018 and has decided to open in her hometown, which is also home to Gourmet Farmer Matthew Evans' once-a-week Fat Pig Farm. 

Ilha will fill a void in Cyget by opening four nights a week - Thursday to Sunday - and will offer tapas and glass of wine as well as a seasonal a la carte menu. 

Clare has lived and worked in both Sydney and Melbourne, where she ran the bar at Murmur. 

Stay tuned for more details. 


Tuesday 23 April 2019

Why it is so tempting to break the law in Sydney

Sydney is one big building site right now. 

In addition to what seems like never-ending work on the light rail track down George St, there are various other constructions, demolitions and road changes going on.

Unfortunately for pedestrians, and particularly visitors who are not familiar with the city's traffic foibles, the red lights have not been programmed to keep up with the changes. 

On a visit to Sydney last week I stood several times waiting endlessly for traffic lights to change when there was zero approaching traffic.

Within a day I was taking my chances and jaywalking. Life is too short to stand on a Sydney street corner listening to the noise, chaos and tooting horns of frustrated drivers. 

I was, I noted, not alone in this egregious breaking of the law. 

But beating the light has its risks - financial ones. 

NSW Police Force officers, apparently without any more serious crimes to prosecute, can regularly be seen fining impatient people unwilling to waste their day hoping a light will eventually change from red to green. 

With a fine setting you back $75 this is hardly good PR - visitors must be absolutely baffled by Sydney's ripped up pavements and "no go" areas. 

Big names from Burgundy heading for Sydney

Calling all lovers of fine Burgundy wines. 

The annual Burgundy Celebration returns to Sydney this May, with a curated three-day program of wine tastings, masterclasses and one-off events, including a gala dinner, dedicated to showcasing the very best of Burgundy. 

Inspired by New York’s renowned La Paulée de Meursault, and brought to Australia by Master Sommelier Franck Moreau (right), the Sydney Burgundy Celebration brings together some of the country’s most respected sommeliers, industry experts and chefs including Peter Doyle (est.), Peter Gilmore (Bennelong and Quay), Brent Savage (Bentley Restaurant + Bar, Cirrus, Monopole and Yellow).

Four of Burgundy’s highest-profile winemakers will also be in attendance: Carl Stéphane Cornellier (Domaine Faiveley), Isabelle Collotte (Domaine Philippe Collotte), Stephane Follin-Arbelet (Château de Meursault) and Thibault Jacquet (Domaine Bonneau du Martray). 

Bookings are open now for the Sydney Burgundy Celebration, which will run from May 7-9. 

Tickets are available through Eventbrite. 

Sunday 21 April 2019

One way for hotels to alienate their guests

I stayed one night in a perfectly good Sydney hotel this week, and another in a pretty good apartment hotel.

As I knew would happen, within a couple of days I received needy, whiny emails demanding to know how my stays were.

Now, in the olden days, hotel managers would stroll around the lobby chatting to their guests. Asking them what they liked about the hotel and what they would like to see improved.

Reception desk staff (in the days when they were English speakers) would inquire as to how satisfactory your stay was.

Nowadays managers are far too busy cutting costs to actually mingle with the folk who keep them employed, while check-in/check-out staff are operating at full speed to reduce the queue in front of them following those staff reductions. No time for pleasantries.

Instead, hotels will demand your email every time you check in and then send you a message along these lines:

"Thank you again for staying with us. We truly hope you enjoyed your stay.

"To help us learn from your feedback, we recently sent you a survey link. If you have already filled out the survey, thank you for doing so. If you have not yet had a chance to complete the survey, a quick review for your stay will only take a couple minutes. We really appreciate your feedback."

Now they want guests to do their work for them. Why should a guest, having spent good money on a hotel room, then be expected to spend their time filling in a questionnaire that will almost certainly be ignored?

Hey, hotels, you are in the hospitality industry. If there is nothing in it for me, the guest, you can take your survey and shove it. 

And then you won't find out how absolutely useless the night desk guy was when I checked out. 

Offer me something useful, even as simple as a free cup of coffee next time I check-in, and I might feel differently.

Saturday 20 April 2019

Canberra takes centre stage

I've always enjoyed visiting Canberra. Stay away from those bent politicians, Dirty Dutton, Scumo and the like, and it's an interesting enough place. Cold in winter, though.

Now, the inclusion of three of Canberra's cultural attractions in a new collective to be marketed as part of Tourism Australia's Signature Experiences of Australia program will see Canberra take centre stage. 

Parliament House (above), the Australian War Memorial and the National Gallery of Australia are among 16 iconic cultural attractions that have created 22 experiences across Australia that will all offer premium experiences targeting the high-yielding (I think that means big-spending) traveller, says a press release from Visit Canberra.

Parliament House's $250 experience will see visitors guided through the art and furniture collections and invited to lunch like a dignitary, while the Australian War Memorial will take visitors on a personalised tour and behind-the-scenes exploration of the unique collection of letters, maps, photographs and diaries ($300).

The National Gallery of Australia's $2500 exclusive after-hours tour of iconic works in the national collection is followed by a degustation dinner.

Canberra is experiencing record-high international visitation with Tourism Research Australia's year ending December 2018 showing 251,638 international overnight visitors came to the capital in the past year.

Tourism Australia's Signature Experiences of Australia collectives have been developed to package and promote outstanding Australian tourism experiences that offer diversity, transformation and engagement with a variety of niche and special interest areas for international visitors to Australia.

Friday 19 April 2019

Sad news for lovers of Bordeaux wines

Two million bottles of wine with an estimated value of over $16 million are believed to have been destroyed in a huge warehouse fire in Carbon-Blanc, a commune in the Gironde department in Nouvelle-Aquitaine in south-western France. 

Almost 60 firefighters were sent to tackle the blaze, which broke out across storage facility buildings in the town outside Bordeaux. 

A vast quantity of alcohol owned by the Sovex Grands Châteaux company was wrecked in the fire. The company sells labels including Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Lafon-Rochet and Chateau Gloria. 

Around two million bottles were either destroyed or made “unfit” by the blaze, local media reported. 

Around 80 employees were evacuated from the buildings and no injuries were reported.

The fire is thought to have started in one of the warehouse’s false ceilings, which fell onto several pallets and crates of wine.

Police have opened an investigation into the cause of the fire and the company is consulting with its insurers on the extent of the damage.

Bordeaux is the largest wine-producing region in France. It produces some of the most expensive and coveted wine in the world.

Does Australia need another fast food chain?

We've got McDonald's and Burger King (Hungry Jack's). We've got Pizza Hut and Domino's. KFC, Red Rooster, Subway and Gloria Jeans. 

So does Australia need another fast food chain? 

The people behind American franchise Jon Smith Subs are betting that we do. 

The American franchise will open their first store in Melbourne's Docklands next month (May 3), specialising in hot, grilled subs featuring marinated sirloin steak and chicken

The restaurant will also offer "award-winning" crispy fries that have been a hallmark of the franchise for nearly 30 years. 

“I'm extremely excited about being the first Jon Smith Subs in Australia.” said Emad Mikhael, the owner of Jon Smith Subs, Docklands. 

“We cannot wait to bring the premium quality food and fresh flavours that Jon Smith Subs has been famously known for in the US for over 30 years.” 

Jon Smith Subs, a brand member of United Franchise Group's affiliated companies and brands plans to expand across Australia. 

The Docklands outlet will have 68 seats, with 12 seats inside the store (which does not sound ideal in winter). 

See for further details. 

Thursday 18 April 2019

Yet another budget airline hits turbulence

Wikipedia was straight onto it, as usual: Jet Airways was an Indian international airline based in Mumbai.

The debt-ridden airline today suspended all services, without admitting it is out of business.

A last-ditch emergency funding package couldn't be agreed with lenders, forcing the shutdown, Travel Mole reported.

Jet Airways only had five planes left due to repossessions following unpaid lessor fees and had been operating with pilots and other workers still owed several months' salary.

The airline's website said in a message from CEO Vinay Dube: "It is with deep sadness and with a heavy heart that we would like to share with you that, effective immediately, Jet Airways will be suspending all its domestic and international operations."

Jet's fleet size numbered more than 120 planes just a few months ago. It serves 57 destinations including 37 domestic and 20 international destinations in 15 countries across Asia, Europe, North America and Middle East.

"Since no emergency funding from the lenders or any other source is forthcoming, we will not be able to pay for fuel or other critical services to keep the operations going," the airline said in a statement.

"Consequently, with immediate effect, we are compelled to cancel all our international and domestic flights temporarily.

"This decision has been taken after a painstaking evaluation of all alternatives that were made available to the airline and after receiving guidance and advice on the same from the board.

"We are actively working to try and ensure that the bid process leads to a viable solution for the company."

With passengers left stranded, it is yet another reminder to be cautious when booking overseas flights, and to be sure to have comprehensive travel insurance.

Qantas launches direct flights to Japanese ski destination

Qantas is to launch new direct seasonal flights between Sydney and Sapporo, aiming to meet a growing demand from Australians wanting to travel to the popular Japanese ski resort.

To coincide with the peak ski season, Qantas will fly three times per week to Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport between December 16, 2019, and March 28, 2020.

The flights will be operated by Qantas’ upgraded Airbus A330 aircraft, offering more than 10,000 seats on the route over this period.

Qantas will be the first airline to fly direct between Sydney and Sapporo and the service will be the national carrier’s fifth route between Australia and Japan.

Qantas International Acting CEO Naren Kumar said Sapporo was a highly sought-after holiday destination for Australian travellers.

“Travel between Australia and Japan is booming; these new flights make it easier for Australians to reach Hokkaido’s popular ski resorts like Niseko and Rusutsu,” Kumar said.

“The number of Australians travelling to Japan has more than doubled over the past five years, with almost 500,000 Australians visiting Japan in the last 12 months alone. We expect Japan’s popularity to continue with the country hosting a number of major international sporting events in the next two years.

“Domestic connections with Jetstar Japan will also open up new options for customers who want to travel beyond the Hokkaido region for both business and leisure.

“In the past two years we’ve expanded our network by adding two new destinations in Japan to meet this growing demand: a year-round service to Osaka, and now seasonal services to Sapporo. We’ll continue to look for opportunities to meet customer demand.”

The new service is also expected to drive tourism by creating a new option for travellers from the Hokkaido region to experience summer in Australia. Qantas will be working with the Hokkaido Government to promote the new service to travellers from across Australia and Japan.

Customers can book Qantas’ new Sapporo service from today at or through travel agents.

Wednesday 17 April 2019

Warning: nutter on board

Passengers on board an American Airlines flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix were this week subjected to a passenger walking up and down the aisles, swearing, spraying liquid and striking some of them. 

After the plane landed at Phoenix the man opened the plane door and jumped out, injuring himself slightly. He was taken into custody by Phoenix police.

Flight crew had called ahead for assistance due to his erratic behaviour. The 25-year had been walking down the aisle touching other passengers' faces and spraying them with an unknown liquid, Travel Mole reported. 

"Once the flight arrived at the gate, the passenger opened one of the doors and jumped off the aircraft," the airline said.

"He landed on the ground approximately 10 feet below, sustaining minor injuries. Workers at the airport stopped the man and he was taken into custody by Phoenix Police officers without incident,"  Phoenix Police said in a statement.

The man is facing trespass charges, although other passengers involved declined to press charges.

That I find hard to believe. If a lunatic ruined my flight and sprayed me with liquid I'd certainly want him charged. 

And what of the American Airlines flight crew? Why had they not restrained him, for the good of both other passengers and his own safety? 

American idiots. 

Tuesday 16 April 2019

Australia's new $1000-a-bottle red wine unveiled

It is 50 years since Sydney hotelier and publican Bill Taylor Snr decided to establish a family wine estate in the Clare Valley.

It was a time when fortified wines still ruled the roost in Australia, but Taylor was determined to replicate some of the great wines of Bordeaux.

On July 20, 1969, Bill Taylor first set foot on a site by the Wakefield River. It was the same day that Neil Armstrong took man's first steps on the moon.

Plantings of cabernet sauvignon vines - gifted by the famous Wynn family of Coonawarra - were the start of the estate, which is known as Wakefield Estate outside Australia.

While the Taylors, now led by third generation Mitchell Taylor, already have premium wines The Visionary and The Pioneer they will launch a new ultra-premium red blend to mark the 50th birthday of the business and the family legacy.

The details were kept under wraps before The Legacy was revealed at a special function at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney today.

The 2014 The Legacy will be priced at $1,000 a bottle with a very limited release. It is 92% cabernet with a dash of merlot and cabernet franc and all the fruit is estate grown.

The Taylor family vineyards are at Auburn and have an elevation of up to 350 metres, ensuring warm days and cool nights. Today, the Taylor family are the biggest producers of wine from the Clare Valley with a reputation for fine cabernets, shirazes and rieslings.

Taylors is a member of Australia's First Families of Wine group, and a regular winner of show awards around the globe. See

Revheads set to destroy tranquillity of the Apple Isle

For 28 years now Targa Tasmania has enticed revheads to the Apple Isle to break the speed limit, put wildlife at risk and close the roads for locals wanting to go about their legitimate business. 

Some Targa entrants seem to feel road rules do not apply to them, even when they are between stages in small towns. They rev their engines and ignore local road rules. Police gaze on, obviously under orders not to intervene in what is a money-maker for the state.

The latest Targa Tasmania runs from April 29-May 4. It is described as "a world-class motorsport event held across Tasmania’s most scenic routes and mountain passes". 

The event attracts thousands of spectators to vantage points throughout the state, including just down the road from me.  

Up to 300 cars are selected to compete on a tarmac rally that covers 2000km. 

Over six days, touring, sports and GT cars battle it out over 40 competitive stages on Tasmania’s toughest roads. 

Spectators can get close to the best of Porsche, Lamborghini, Ferrari, BMW, Lotus and Mercedes Benz, should they so wish. 

The action starts in George Town in the state’s north and makes its way south to Hobart. The competition is staged over six leg and competition categories depending on the car and its capabilities. 

I will be doing my best to ignore the event. You may feel differently.  

The event is free for spectators.

Monday 15 April 2019

The risks you take when you book online

A security flaw may be hiding in that confirmation email you get after booking a hotel room online.

Around two-thirds of hotel websites carelessly leak some guest personal data to third-party companies which could also leave them susceptible to scammers, a new report says.

Cyber security firm Symantec found that booking confirmation emails sent to guests frequently contain links to their booking which are not encrypted, which means anyone on the same network could feasibly get access to the data, including hackers.

This lack of security also allows third-party sites such as advertisers to view personal information, Travel Mole reported.

"The fact that this issue exists, despite the General Data Protection Regulations coming into effect in Europe almost one year ago, suggests that the GDPR's implementation has not completely addressed how organisations respond to data leakage," said Candid Wueest, principal threat researcher at Symantec.

The company looked at more than 1,500 hotel websites in 54 countries, ranging from two- to five-star properties.

Data which was unwittingly leaked includes names, email addresses, passport numbers and some credit card details

Wueest said data privacy officers at a quarter of all hotels did not reply within six weeks when notified of security issues. Which is not good news for travellers. It seems some hotels simply do not care.

Sunday 14 April 2019

New Melbourne hotels have a gold medal location

Melbourne has new twin hotels sharing many of the same facilities in one of the best locations in town.
Located in the heart of the Melbourne CBD, next to the busy Hardware Lane dining precinct, Novotel Melbourne Central and Ibis Melbourne Central are just a few metres to Melbourne's shopping precinct with easy access to Docklands and Southbank by via a free tram ride. 

For lovers of Asian food there are dozens of choices on the doorstep - as well as a spectacular Asian supermarket.
I stayed in the very comfortable Novotel part of the building in a room that featured a giant flat-screen TV and free wifi. The room was spacious although the bathroom design was a little odd with the sink located in the bedroom.
There's a well-stocked mini bar, a plethora of pillows and quality bathroom amenities. The lifts, too, are fast, not always the case in busy city properties.   

Well situated for business travellers - within close proximity to major office towers - the complex features a casual eatery, restaurant, bar and conference facilities. 
Located on Little Lonsdale Street, the hotels feature 483 guestrooms in total and the 35-floor tower is AccorHotels Australia's first vertical new-build multi hotel development. 
Ibis Melbourne Central comprises the lower tiers of the tower and make up 270 premium-economy guest rooms, whilst Novotel (below) opens from level 20 with 213 4.5-star guest rooms and suites.
The budget-priced Ibis offers some of Melbourne's best accommodation value. 
Pretty Boy Italian Steak House (I did not have dinner here) serves impressive buffet breakfasts to set you up for the day, although the vibe is a little soulless. 

Floyd's is a casual bar and eatery with cheese and charcuterie selections, while Goldie Asian Canteen + Brews is open from dawn to dark.

Look out for some very tasty online deals. 

Novotel Melbourne Central/Ibis Melbourne Central: 399 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000. (03) 9068 5458

Saturday 13 April 2019

Discover the hotel with a fascinating Cold War secret

A new tourist attraction has opened in the Postojna Cave Park's Hotel Jama in Slovenia. 

One of Slovenia's highest-rated hostelries used to be a far from ordinary hotel.

It has some secret rooms, where unusual activities took place in former Yugoslavia. 

Now, guests can roll back the years and discover what was really going on in these rooms decades ago. 

Under the former regime, Hotel Jama lived a double life. Its secret rooms were not discovered until the hotel underwent renovations in 2016.

Since it was built in 1971, Hotel Jama has accommodated thousands of visitors to the world-famous Postojna Cave. 

But some of the rooms bear witness to the activities of the secret services of the former socialist system. 

Hidden inside the hotel building is a communications centre, which raises more questions than answers.

Who built it, what was was going on here, what was it used for and why was it secret? 

The stories are firing people's imagination and causing quite a stir.

The Secret Rooms of the Hotel Jama is described as "a documentary, exciting and entertaining experience". 

While touring the rooms, guests can learn some history, listen to archival eavesdropping recordings from that period and visit an authentic communications centre. 

The tour takes an hour and a half and is available in Slovenian and English. It is suitable for adults and children over the age of 15. The group size is limited to six people. It starts at the reception of Hotel Jama, where you will meet your guide. All other details are being kept secret. 

For more information about the tours visit

Friday 12 April 2019

Discover the new shining star of the Yarra Valley

It has taken just a few years for Levantine Hill to become a Yarra Valley wine tourism icon. 

In addition to a superb range of wines crafted by former Yarra Yering winemaker Paul Bridgeman, there is an excellent tasting area, two eateries, a sculpture garden, splendid views and room for helicopters to land - which they do with regularity.

It's a family business, with owner Elias Jreissati’s daughter Samantha as joint managing director, and blocks in the home vineyard are named after all three of his adult daughters, as well as wife Colleen.

Jreissati arrived in Australia aged 18 from Lebanon, speaking no English. He started out with a sandwich shop, amassed a property fortune by age 25, only to lose it all. He then built it again through his Bensons Property Group.

The estate comprises two vineyards, one planted in the 1990s; the other with family blocks created alongside a truffiére. The first vintage was in 2012.

A new state-of-the art winery is being built on site, along with a conference space and a classic car museum. There are also plans for luxury cottages on the banks of the Yarra.

Now there is even more reason to visit; recently arrived chef Luke Headon (above) has lifted the bar at Ezard @ Levantine Hill restaurant, elevating it to a splendid destination eatery.

Byron Bay-born Headon has worked for some of the best chefs in the world, including notoriously demanding Marcus Wareing and Heston Blumenthal in Britain.

He had a brief stint at Collins Quarter after returning to Australia from an eight-year stint working at venues including The Fat Duck and Restaurant Story in London.

I was fortunate enough to sample an eight-course degustation lunch crafted by Headon earlier this month and it more than lived up to its billing, matched with a selection of estate wines.

“I think there is huge potential with what we do at Levantine Hill and I’ve worked hard to ensure the menu is more focused on Yarra Valley ingredients,’’ Headon said.

“I think we’ve got to celebrate the real sense of community in the Yarra Valley and I’ve been keen to encourage local suppliers and growers to work with us.

"I was drawn to the newly created role of executive chef and Levantine Hill because of the opportunity to expand on the solid foundations and standards set by chef Teage Ezard and the restaurants relationship with our world-class wine maker Paul Bridgeman.

“Paul and I chat weekly. We have a great relationship and if I have a thought about a new dish, I pick his brain and get an idea of how it could work with Levantine Hill’s museum or, new-release wines.”

A new Signature Restaurant menu is in place with a new look All-Day Dining menu. 

The herb garden at Levantine Hill is also getting a makeover and will be expanded via a local farmer replicating what is grown in the garden to create the required herb harvest so there is an adequate supply throughout a seasoned menu.

The new All-Day Dining Menu takes its inspiration from a Parisian brasserie setting with the emphasis on sharing plates and a heavy European influence. The degustation in the Signature eatery is simply superb, with service to match.

From house-baked bread and Yarra Valley butter to an audacious duo of desserts, just about everything shines (although I was a tad underwhelmed by a Wagyu beef brisket dish, which was outshone by the 2015 delicious Cabenet Sauvignon).

Stars of the show include cuttlefish with oyster mushroom, kombu and sea herbs; an amazing salad of scallops, local tomatoes and green strawberries and airy saffron cappelletti with goat curd, date and macadamia (a fabulous match with the 2016 Estate Chardonnay).

Meatier courses include pork belly with pease pudding, witlof and burnt apple and moist duck with beetroot, cashew and bay leaf. It is all very, very good.

An eight-course tasting menu costs $195, or a five-course menu $135, with a range of wine matchings available depending on your thirst; or wallet.

Levantine Hill is at 882-886 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, Yarra Valley. (03) 5962 1333. 

# The writer was a guest of Levantine Hill