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Monday 31 July 2023

Geelong to get new 200-room Crowne Plaza hotel

Geelong's new convention centre will be anchored by a Crowne Plaza hotel, the IHG Group announced.

The new-build 200-room Crowne Plaza Geelong will open in 2026, part of the Geelong Convention and Exhibition Centre precinct development project, which forms part of the Geelong City Deal - a collaboration between the Australian and Victorian governments and the City of Greater Geelong.

The new complex will feature a 1,000-seat venue, two large exhibition spaces, meeting rooms, conference facilities and flexible event spaces.

New retail spaces will feature hospitality offerings, and a large public plaza will become a feature of the Geelong waterfront.

The Crowne Plaza Geelong is expected to include suites up to 57sqm in size, a restaurant and bar offering, as well as a pool and gym.

And, while it will be connected to the convention and exhibition centre the hotel itself will also feature meeting spaces.

With the new 180-room Holiday Inn & Suites Geelong due to open in September this year, IHG is on track to be the largest global hotel operator in Geelong.

It continues IHG's suburban and regional expansion in Victoria that has also seen it add Holiday Inn Dandenong earlier in the year, Holiday Inn Werribee in 2021 and InterContinental Sorrento in 2022.

It will also open six new hotels in Greater Melbourne in the next 12 months under the Crowne Plaza, voco, Hotel Indigo and Holiday Inn brands.

Cameron Burke, IHG Hotels & Resorts' Director of Development for Australasia and Pacific, said: “We're thrilled to be planning this partnership with Plenary Group and extending our reach across regional Victoria with the Crowne Plaza brand.

“This is an incredibly exciting development, and we will be delighted to be part of a precinct that will become a crown jewel for the city of Geelong."

Sunday 30 July 2023

Airline introduces Braille signage to help visually disabled flyers

United Airlines has moved to help passengers with visual disabilities by adding Braille messaging to aircraft interiors.

United says it will help less sighted folk more easily navigate the cabin independently.

The airline has currently equipped about a dozen aircraft with Braille markings for individual rows and seat numbers as well as inside and outside lavatories.

United expects to outfit its entire mainline fleet with Braille by the end of 2026.

“Finding your seat on a plane or getting to the restroom is something most of us take for granted,” said Linda Jojo, United's Chief Customer Officer.

“But for millions, it can be a challenge.”

“By adding more tactile signage throughout our interiors, we’re making the flying experience more inclusive.”

In addition, United is working with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and other groups to explore the use of other tactile navigational aids.

This includes raised letters, numbers and arrows.

Other measures United has implemented include a recent re-design of the United app to make it easier to use for people with visual disabilities.

New Bali taskforce to crack down on "naughty" tourists

If you are planning to visit Bali and misbehave then be warned that local residents are being encouraged to dob you in to the authorities.

And if you are a budget traveller with mischief in mind then you may face deportation.

Immigration officials this week launched a new hotline for concerned citizens to report tourists who have been behaving badly on the island, the Bali Sun newspaper reported.

The move came as the Director General of Immigration for Indonesia also launched a new task force dedicated to eliminating disrespectful and illegal behaviour by foreigners.

Speaking to reporters at the launch of the new Bali Becik Task Force, Director General of Immigration Silmy Karim explained how the new hotline will work and why it is needed.

He explained: “We, from the Bali Becik Task Force, invite the people of Bali to report foreigners. Community participation is certainly very much needed in supervising and taking action against unruly tourists.”

Karim said the Bali Becik Task Force will be cracking down on law breaking foreigners in Bali from now until the end of the year.

The Bali Becik Task Force is currently comprised of a team of 25 officers who will be coordinating the tourist control missions in partnership with the immigration offices, police forces, and local community groups.

The newspaper predicted several deportations as a result of the implementation of the force.

Becik means ‘good’ or ‘well’ in the Balinese language.

“As the name implies, the Bali Becik Task Force aims for a safer Bali…with this task force, I hope Bali Becik can really come true,” said Karim.

“The formation of the Bali Becik Task Force is due to the rise of tourists who misbehave. So, in the future, it can minimise the actions of naughty tourists in Bali.

“The main problem regarding foreigners in Bali is the large number of foreign tourists with low spending who often make trouble.”

He described them as "thin-pocketed tourists.”

Image: Jimbaran Beach, Winsor Dobbin

Saturday 29 July 2023

Airline slammed for "unacceptable" service failures

Britain's Civil Aviation Authority has clamped down on budget airline Wizz Air after a swag of customer complaints.

The organisation - which clearly has more teeth than Australia's pathetic excuse for a regulator - had expressed concerns for several months over consumer rights being ignored when Wizz flights were delayed or cancelled.

Several County Court Judgements have been issued against Wizz Air over the last nine months and The Guardian reported Wizz Air could be forced to pay out millions of pounds to angry passengers.

The CAA has instructed Wizz Air to make changes to its policies and procedures to comply with its legal obligations.

Wizz Air, for those not familiar with this bad boy, is a Hungarian multinational with its head office in Budapest.

The airline serves many cities across Europe, as well as some destinations in North Africa, the Middle East and the Indian sub continent.

The CAA says Wizz Air will now be forced to make changes to its policies and passenger communications.

The airline has agreed to look again at claims it received from disgruntled passengers for replacement flight and other costs incurred after flight disruptions.

The action covers claims for flights to and from UK Airports since March 18 last year, Travel Mole reports.

Wizz Air has agreed to sign undertakings with the regulator to make good on these outstanding claims.

The CAA will also monitor the airline for compliance over the coming months.

Wizz Air will also be required to provide information to the CAA about its review of closed expenses claims.

Paul Smith, joint-interim CEO at the CAA, said: “This enforcement action sends a clear message that airlines must meet their obligations to passengers.

“Passengers have every right to expect their complaints and claims to be resolved quickly and efficiently and to be treated fairly.

“We made it clear to Wizz Air last year that the way it was treating passengers was unacceptable.”

Japan on the wrong track for rail tourists

Tourists are set to pay a whole lot more to travel by train in Japan. 

Japan’s transport authority recently announced price increases of over 50% for nationwide train passes, Travel Mole reports.

Some of the Japan Railways (JR) group’s regional train passes will also see increases of up to 50%.

Prices for JR East and JR Central, which include Tokyo, Nagano and Tohoku, are subject to the biggest price hikes.,

The five-day JR East Tohoku Area Pass, with unlimited travel including shinkansen bullet trains, goes up from 20,000 yen to 30,000 yen from October. That's a new price of around $321. 

The three-day JR Tokyo Wide Pass rises from 10,180 yen to 15,000 yen.

Also, the five-day Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass, which covers journeys between Nagoya and Takayama and Osaka with Kanazawa, goes up 39%.

JR Group said that as the price rises come into effect, more destinations will be covered by the passes. The rises still seem extortionate even though tt will boost the number of seats allocated for passes giving unlimited rail travel.

Rail passes in other regions such as the JR Kyushu and JR Hokkaido passes were also going up but by much less - 5% from 19,000 yen to 20,000 yen.

The JR nationwide 14-day pass, covering all trains across the country is priced at 80,000 yen, up from the current 47,250 yen.

The transport authority added that pass holders will receive certain perks, such as discounts at selected stores. Big whoopee do on that one. 

Prices for children aged between six and 11 are half that of the adult passes.

The old passes will remain on sale until September 30. So be quick, or be gouged. 

Image: Winsor Dobbin 

Friday 28 July 2023

British Minister is both cruel and crazy

Suella Braverman is the stone-cold crazy Home Secretary of the United Kingdom.

Despite being the daughter of migrants from Mauritius and Kenya, she wants to send refugees seeking asylum in Britain to live in Rwanda.

Braverman is on the right wing of the Conservative Party (which is a statement in itself), was a supporter of Brexit and is in favour of the UK withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights. She is, predictably, also anti transgender rights.

Suella is not her real name: she was previously known as Sue Ellen, named after a character in TV soap Dallas.

Her latest act of cruelty is aimed at the government having to avoid paying for accommodation for refugees while they are being processed.

Cruella has apparently purchased tents to accommodate up to 2,000 migrants on disused military sites as part of emergency plans to avoid the expensive process of last-minute hotel bookings, The Times reports.

The tents will start to be erected over coming weeks as part of contingency plans to deal with an expected surge of small boat arrivals.

The UK Border Force is predicting that the next three months will be the busiest time for migrant crossings, in a repeat of last year, which saw 51% of the year’s record-breaking 45,755 small boat arrivals (the Brits cunningly think calling refugees small boat arrivals helps demonise them) land in August, September and October.

Home Office sources told The Times there was “nothing wrong” with accommodating migrants in temporary accommodation such as tents.

The latest plan has sparked criticism of "inhumane treatment" of asylum seekers and been compared to concentration camps.

Given her track record, the Right Honourable Cruella is unlikely to care.

Hotel industry big guns splash the cash

The hotel industry has been spending millions of dollars on upgrades and refurbs as travel numbers rocket towards pre-Covid figures.

Accor Pacific, the largest hotel operator in Australia and New Zealand, this week announced that its partners have invested more than $300 million in hotel renovations and refurbishments since the beginning of 2022.

"This significant investment demonstrates Accor Pacific and their partner's commitment to providing exceptional guest experiences and maintaining the highest standards of quality across its portfolio," the company said in a statement.

The upgrades have taken place in various locations throughout the Pacific region, including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and French Polynesia.

The investments aims to enhance guest satisfaction and elevate property amenities.

"We are proud to announce this substantial investment in hotel renovations and refurbishments," said Accor Pacific CEO Sarah Derry.

"It reflects the commitment of our partners to invest in Accor's brands, which continue to deliver outstanding guest experiences. These renovations will not only enhance the overall guest experience, but also contribute to the economic growth and development of the local communities where Accor hotels, apartments and resorts are located.

“The renovations have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from guests, who have noted the enhanced comfort and improved facilities. Accor continues to prioritise guest satisfaction and aims to provide exceptional experiences that exceed expectations.”

Among the notable projects completed is the highly anticipated refurbishment of Manly Pacific - MGallery, located in Manly, Sydney (top image). The extensive renovation showcases the hotel's commitment to contemporary design and luxurious comfort. The updated property now offers state-of-the-art facilities, modernised guest rooms, and improved amenities, ensuring an unforgettable stay for guests.

Peppers Waymouth Adelaide also unveiled a new look earlier this year. The 202-room flagship Adelaide hotel renovation includes 17 floors of reappointed guestrooms, as well as the addition of two new luxury suites and two dedicated family rooms.

The hotel also added a new restaurant - TUTTO Cucina + Bar - with an open kitchen and wine cellar to its ground floor, plus a new high-end private dining room / boardroom, guest library lounge and enhanced conference rooms located on level one of the hotel.

Following a multi-million dollar transformation, the five-star Swissôtel Sydney has unveiled its new lobby bar Arches on Market, and European-inspired rooftop pool.

The Playford - MGallery, Adelaide's original five-star boutique hotel, recently received a $25m makeover including guest rooms, function spaces, reception and a new stand-alone restaurant and bar, Luma.

Accor brands across the Pacific region include: Sofitel, MGallery, Art Series, Pullman, Swissôtel, Mövenpick, Grand Mercure, Peppers, The Sebel, Mantra, Handwritten Collection, Novotel, Mercure, BreakFree, ibis, ibis Styles and ibis budget, as well as Ennismore's SO/ and TRIBE.

Coonawarra vignerons gear up to hit the road

Coonawarra is not the easiest of wine regions to get to, so its vignerons will be hitting Australia's capital cities next month to show off their latest releases - and some older gems. 

The Coonawarra Wine Tasting Roadshow will be held in five capital cities with up to 30 Coonawarra producers jetting around the country. 

To be presented over two weeks in August, the tour will include tasting events in Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. But not Hobart this time around. 

“Coonawarra is synonymous with premium red wines, and the likes of Wynns Coonawarra, Redman Wines and Katnook Estate are iconic brands who have a rich and long history of wine making in our region," says Coonawarra Vignerons Events and Marketing Officer Heidi Guyett. 

Attendees will be spoilt for choice with anywhere between 100 and 190 wines featuring on the wine lists at the different events with a range of varieties and styles up for tasting, including a selection of Coonawarra’s white varieties.

“The cool climatic conditions of the Coonawarra wine region make for outstanding white wines that are crisp and aromatic. From riesling to chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and more - there will be something for every wine lover."

In most cases the wines will be poured by by either the winemaker or owners and family members of the brand - Sam Brand from Brand & Sons (above).

“The wineries of Coonawarra really embrace the opportunity to present their product to a national audience of consumers and trade in their home states," says Guyett. 

"They particularly love the opportunity to meet their customers first-hand, to build on relationships and to make new ones."

Long-time roadshow presenter attendee Brian ‘Prof’ Lynn of Majella has been exhibiting at Coonawarra Cellar Door in the City events for over two decades.

“The Coonawarra Roadshow is a highlight in the event calendar for the Coonawarra wine industry," he says . 

"It is an institution of wine promotion for our region and the consumers [and we] just love it.” 

Wineries are encouraged to bring along a mystery bottle, typically a back vintage or museum wine, to demonstrate the age-ability of Coonawarra reds.

The dates are: 

ADELAIDE The National Wine Centre – Friday, August 11 – 27 Wineries

PERTH Aloft Rooftop – Sunday, August 13 – 15 Wineries

MELBOURNE  The Pavilion at the Arts Centre Melbourne – Wednesday, August 16 – 30 Wineries

SYDNEY Sydney Masonic Centre - Friday, August 18 – 24 Wineries

BRISBANE The Calile Hotel - Sunday, August 20 – 22 Wineries

Tickets are on sale now at

Thursday 27 July 2023

Treasury Wine Estates goes hard on solar power

Australian wine industry giant Treasury Wine Estates this week unveiled the largest winery solar installation in Australia.

Commissioned 12 months ago, the solar system is now operational at the wine producer’s Barossa winery and production centre in South Australia, including on the car park roof.

The switch-on means brands including Penfolds, Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Squealing Pig and Pepperjack are on track to meet the company’s target of being produced using 100% renewable electricity by the end of 2024.

Featuring almost 6,000 solar panels at the Barossa site alone, the Australian systems are expected to generate more than 5,500 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, the equivalent of powering 900 homes.

The system has been designed to maximise the capacity of Barossa’s regional renewable electricity infrastructure, with the investment in Australia’s wine industry being promoted as TWE’s sustainability credentials.

It complements other systems already online across TWE’s Australian sites, including Coldstream Hills in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, Penfolds in South Australia’s Magill, and Wynns in Coonawarra.

Kerrin Petty, Chief Supply & Sustainability Officer for TWE, said the investment in transitioning to 100% renewable electricity was prompted by the urgency to decarbonise TWE’s global operations.

“Installing solar panels is the most significant contribution we can make to move closer to our ambition of net zero direct emissions," Petty said.

Tasmania calling to wine guns

Are you a sommelier, wine buyer, restaurateur or retail sales gun? 

Wine Tasmania wants you. 

The umbrella body for wine on the island state is once again inviting wine buyers from across the country to experience the island's very fashionable wines this October.


Ten key people will be selected to participate in an immersive two-day visit exploring the south of the island, tasting wines and interacting with wine producers from around the state.


With the increasing popularity of Tasmanian wine seeing demand often exceeding production, the program presents an opportunity for wine buyers to experience and learn about many of Tasmania’s wines, which can  often be difficult to access.


Wine Tasmania CEO Sheralee Davies said that visiting the island was the best way to experience the Tasmanian lifestyle and its outstanding produce.


“Tasmanian wines have been attracting the attention of a growing global audience in recent years," she says. 

"Visiting the island is the best way to understand the depth and diversity of our outstanding wines and the talented people who grow and craft them.


“Many of the island’s wine producers only sell their wines in Tasmania, while others send their wine off-island in small and hard-to-find quantities. 

@We live in one of the best places on earth and this annual visit allows us to share a little of the lifestyle we’re privileged to call our own.”


The visitation program is open to anyone currently employed in senior roles within the wine trade including sommeliers, restaurateurs and retail representatives. 

Applicants must be responsible for wine purchasing decisions within their business and be available to travel to Tasmania on October 16-17. 

The link to apply can be found at and submissions close on August 18. 

The visitation program is presented with support from the Tasmanian Government.

Wednesday 26 July 2023

Coopers goes full throttle with new Vintage Ale

Coopers Brewery has updated its Vintage Ale packaging to reflect the brewery’s new brand design ahead of the 2023 seasonal ale release.

Each year, the Coopers brewing team creates a vintage premium quality craft-style beer. 

The limited-edition Coopers 2023 Vintage Ale features American hop Talus, which provides intense fruity and floral flavours. In keeping with the heritage of Vintage Ale, this year’s release is a full-bodied, extra-strong ale sitting at alcohol level of 7.5% ABV. 

So not a drop for the faint hearted. 

Coopers managing director and chief brewer, Dr Tim Cooper, said the 2023 Vintage Ale continues the brewery’s tradition of producing popular annual seasonal releases.

“Australian drinkers have a real thirst for seasonal brews, and we expect loyal Coopers drinkers will be exceptionally pleased with this year’s Vintage Ale release,” he said.

“A rich, balanced and full-bodied ale, the 2023 vintage drinks well immediately, and if stored under cellar conditions will evolve and develop to become more complex over time.

“The flavour hero of the 2023 Vintage is Talus, a dual-purpose American hop that delivers bold aromas of citrus and berries, with grapefruit, stone fruit, coconut, and pine on the palate.

“As with every Coopers Vintage release, only a limited number of kegs and cartons are available, so drinkers should get in early to ensure they don’t miss out.:

Coopers 2023 Vintage Ale is the 23rd in a series of Vintage Ales that commenced in 1998.

It will be available in liquor outlets from late July in 355mL bottles, six-packs and 24-pack cartons. Vintage Ale will also be available for a limited time on tap at selected venues around the country.

Vietnam hotels unite against plastics

The hotel industry in Vietnam’s idyllic Cam Ranh region is tackling the scourge of plastic waste head on, working together with the aim of establishing a local plant that will upcycle all types of plastic waste.

The “End Plastic Soup in Cam Ranh” campaign, spearheaded by Alma Resort, The Anam Cam Ranh and Movenpick Cam Ranh and supported by 10 other resorts on the Cam Ranh peninsula, kicked off with an extensive two-day clean-up of Long Beach last month (above). 

The weekend beach clean attracted around 300 volunteers from participating hotels, Vietnam’s Rotary clubs and local schools, and roughly 1.5 tonnes of plastic were collected from the 15-kilometre-long Long Beach to be upcycled. 

A welcome dinner for volunteers and the community was held at Alma - which looks a lovely spot - to mark the start of the initiative. 

Alma managing director Herbert Laubichler-Pichler said Cam Ranh’s hospitality industry would work together with Rotary Club Saigon International to support the Rotary initiative End Plastic Soup to establish a recycling plant in Cam Ranh. 

“Alma and the local hospitality industry know it is crucial to do our bit to raise awareness about the damage plastic is doing to our stunning oceans, direct harmful plastics to upcycling efforts, and fundraise to help contribute to establish a plant here in Cam Ranh that will help the environment and the local community,” Laubichler-Pichler said.

Other hotels participating in the campaign include Aquamarine Resort, Cam Ranh Riviera Beach Resort & Spa, Selectum Noa Resort, Ana Mandara Resort Cam Ranh, Melia Vinpearl Cam Ranh Beach Resort, Radisson Blu Resort Cam Ranh, Swandor Cam Ranh, The Westin Resort & Spa Cam Ranh, Wyndham Garden Cam Ranh Resort and The Arena Cam Ranh Resort.

World Bank figures show Vietnam has become a major source of plastic waste in the world, with an estimated 3.1 million tonnes of plastic waste dumped on land and between 0.28 and 0.73 million tonnes dumped into the ocean each year. 

To support the “End Plastic Soup in Cam Ranh” campaign, contact Alma via email or call +84 258 399 1666.

Tuesday 25 July 2023

Briar Ridge: a quiet Hunter achiever, spreads its wings

There are big name wineries in the Hunter Valley that tend to be the focus of attention: Tyrrell's, Brokenwood and Mount Pleasant come to mind.

But there are also dozens of smaller, lower-profile producers worthy of attention.

One of the lesser known gems is Briar Ridge, tucked away in the picturesque hills of Mount View.

This boutique winery, helmed by rising winemaking star Alex Beckett, sources fruit from around Australia in addition to showcasing its own terroir.

Three new premium releases are a case in point: the trio uses fruit from the Hunter, the Hilltops region outside Young and far away Wrattonbully in South Australia's Limestone Coast.

These new releases are the 2021 Single Vineyard Dairy Hill Shiraz from the Hunter, the 2021 Single Vineyard Big Bully Cabernet Sauvignon from Wrattonbully and the 2022 Single Vineyard Hillrose Shiraz from the Hilltops.

All are reds substance; ideal for enjoying over the winter months.

Hunter locals look away now: the Wrattonbully wine was my favourite for immediate consumption, big and bold with intense blackberry and blackcurrant flavours. Full of personality; this is meaty, beaty, big and bouncy with a nod to The Who.

The Dairy Hill was the runner up, although I'm sure it will be the best wine down the road; a classic medium-bodied lifted and savoury Hunter style. This one has a long way to go.

Briar Ridge last year celebrated its 50th birthday and its estate vineyard has altitude to allow it to avoid temperature extremes - not unknown in the Hunter.

Briar Ridge was recently being shortlisted for the 2024 Halliday Wine Companion Awards for 'Best Value Winery, although these new releases are priced at $65 a bottle.

“We not only have this strong history and tradition at Briar Ridge Vineyard but also all this tremendous excitement around new grape varieties, modern viticultural practices and winemaking techniques," says Beckett.

"To me, it’s the melding together of the old and the new that makes Briar Ridge wines so interesting - it’s certainly why I enjoy doing what I do.” 

My only quibble. All three are bottled under cork.  

For two nights only: Singapore to hit Sydney

Folk in the Sydney CBD can enjoy a little slice of Singapore in September.

Head to Circular Quay on September 7-8 to sample a slice of Singapore nightlife without leaving town.

The event will be called The Singaportal and is a joint venture between travel and experiences portal Klook and the Singapore Tourism Board.

The PR blurb says Sydneysiders will have the chance to immerse themselves "in the vibrant, pulsating, and colourful world of Singaporean nightlife".

Among the highlights will be:

# Giant SuperTree Grove, Merlion re-creation and Haji Lane walk-through.

# Raffles Long Bar experience: A recreation of Raffles Long Bar, where guests can sip on the famous Singapore Slings in partnership with Raffles and Long Bar Singapore.

# Satay Street: An opportunity to experience the signature food of Singapore in a Hawker street food ambience.

# A DJ set by some of Australia and Singapore's leading DJs.

# Brass Lion Distillery and Tiger Beer will be the alcohol partners.

There will be only 2000 tickets available and The Singaportal will feature two sessions per night to cater to different audiences.

The first session, from 6-8:30pm will provide a family-friendly and relaxed atmosphere, while the second session, from 9pm- midnight will be more adult focused.

At each session, a lucky guest’s PortalBand will light up and the wearer will win return tickets to Singapore courtesy of airline Scoot with a free stay at Raffle’s Hotel and all their Singapore activities sponsored by Klook.

Henry Hooper, general manager at Klook ANZ, said: "We are delighted to collaborate with the Singapore Tourism Board to bring the vibrant Singapore nightlife to Sydney.

"The Singaportal will offer Sydneysiders a truly immersive experience, enabling them to savour the diverse and thrilling aspects of Singaporean culture. We are excited to showcase some of the best aspects of the Singaporean culture in this unique event and provide an unforgettable night for our guests."

For more information and ticket sales visit here.

Monday 24 July 2023

Hospitality heavyweights hatch some big plans

Two hospitality heavyweights have combined, aiming to create bigger and better booze festivals.

A new partnership agreement between the Schwartz Family Company, owners of some of Australia's highest-profile hotesl, and Spectapular Enterprises - organisers of the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular (GABS) - is designed to lift the energy of several regional craft beer and wine events.

Under the agreement, the Schwartz Family Company’s Hunter Valley, Canberra and Gold Coast events will come into the GABS stable, providing greater national exposure for the regional wine and beer festivals.

The agreement also sees hotelier Jerry Schwartz take up a board appointment and partnership equity in Spectapular Enterprises.

Schwartz is director of the largest privately- owned hotel group in Australia with some iconic hotels in his 14-property portfolio, including Mercure Canberra, the venue for the annual Canberra Craft Beer & Cider Festival (above).

GABS currently operates some of Australia's largest national beer events, and with the GABS/Schwartz partnership, GABS will now be able to offer exceptional craft beer consumer experiences in regional areas, with the addition of the Schwartz Family Company's Hunter Valley, Gold Coast and Canberra events.

The Canberra Craft Beer & Cider Festival and the Hunter Valley Wine & Beer Festival have been operating for over a decade, while the Gold Coast event was added two years ago.

“I am really delighted about incorporating our Canberra, Hunter Valley and Gold Coast events into the Spectapular calendar,” said Schwartz.

“It is a fantastic platform that will help take these events to new heights over the next 10 years and beyond.

"We’re also looking to introduce some new premium events and products, the first being Finer Drop, as we continue to grow and provide consumers and exhibitors with more world-class experiences."

The Finer Drop, a new premium drinks experience, will launch this November at the Winx Stand at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney.

Mike Bray, managing director of GABS, said: “The partnership with Jerry is a natural fit on all levels. He brings a wealth of experience in providing local and international guests exceptional experiences every day.

"I see huge potential to build on the incredible work the SFC team have done with the Canberra Beer & Cider Festival and Hunter Valley Wine & Beer Festival over the years.”

Spectapular’s flagship event, GABS Festival, is recognised as being one of the premier beer festivals.

Total makeover for Melbourne city hotel

One of the best-located hotels in Melbourne has reopened after being given a complete makeover.

Rydges Melbourne is in the heart of the city’s theatre district only moments from Collins Street boutiques, Chinatown, Melbourne Central and the Bourke Street Mall.

The hotel's transformation includes a technology fitout that features seamless online check-in, in-room streaming services, and apartments that feature sweeping city views.

Among the upgrades are:

* 370 refurbed rooms across three accommodation styles: 310 king standard rooms, 35 suites and 25 apartments with a kitchenette, laundry, and separate lounge/dining spaces.

* All rooms feature Rydges DreamBeds

* The new tech tech provides seamless and connected experiences throughout the property. Guests are able to check-in online from their mobile device or self-service kiosks. In-room TVs offer casting, room service and more.

* The property has one of Melbourne’s largest conference and event offerings, including 11 newly designed meeting areas across two levels. The largest space was previously Bobby McGee’s and is now a showcase ballroom. Level two is home to the new Rooftop Terrace with space and views.

* There is a modern and interactive fitness studio with the latest in fitness technology.
* Bossley Bar & Restaurant, located on the ground floor of the hotel, showcases locally sourced ingredients from around Victoria.

Troy Cuthbertson, Group General Manager, Hotel Operations Rydges (big title Troy), said: "Rydges Melbourne has been meticulously transformed to be a flagship for the brand. The Rydges brand is uniquely Australian owned and operated which is reflected in the design.

"From the warm and welcoming styled rooms, suites and new apartments experience that rival the best views in Melbourne, to the state-of-the-art technology and world-class facilities and events spaces, we have created a property that features more on every level.

"Guest feedback has already been extremely positive and the interest in our new conference and event spaces is strong. We are truly excited to bring this experience to the Australian market.”

Throughout the hotel is a collection of art curated by interior stylist Janet Graham, which celebrates the styles of various local artists.

You can visit the hotel’s website or ring (03) 9662 0511). Standard room rates start at $255 per night, which sounds reasonable for city centre accommodation. One I aim to check out. 

Sunday 23 July 2023

Amsterdam to say "no" to cruise ships

Amsterdam is set to ban cruise ships from its waters and close its cruise terminal.

The largest city in the Netherlands has taken the move cut pollution and overcrowding in the city, Travel Mole reports.

The city has annually welcomed more than 100 cruise ships a year.

“Cruise ships in the centre don’t fit in with Amsterdam’s task of cutting the number of tourists,” said Ilana Rooderkerk of the D66 party, which controls the city along with the Labour party and environmentalists.

The city has been pushing measures to crack down on too much tourism and nuisance behaviour, including smoking cannabis in public.

This has involves cleaning up the red light district and shunning stag and hen's parties.

As yet, there has been no timeline given for the cruise terminal closure.

The ban will not lead to the end of shore excursions to Amsterdam.

Cruise lines also offer trips to Amsterdam when docking at Ijmuiden and Rotterdam.

Amsterdam attracts up to 20 million annual visitors.

Rooderkerk recently compared cruise tourists to a "plague of locusts" descending all at once on the city. 

New technology aims to help airport users

Ever rushed through an unfamiliar airport trying to find your gate?

New technology may help hapless travellers who get lost in airports.

British Airways announced this week that it is trialling a new digital wayfinding tool to speed up passenger flows through London Heathrow.

The new tech offers maps of both London Heathrow Terminal 5 and Terminal 3, helping customers to quickly locate their departure gate, Travel Mole reports.

It also gives passengers instructions on how to find shops, lounges and restaurants. So money is the real motivation.

But the new wayfinding tool also allows customers to save time and reduce the chance of missing a flight.

Through an interactive map, customers can click on areas including shops and view information about their exact location, opening times, and a description on items on sale.

It also shows bathrooms, seating areas and information points.

Customers connecting between flights, can input their inbound and connecting flight details to be given step-by-step instructions to their designated gate.

The trial is available to all customers travelling through London Heathrow, and they can access the tool through QR codes on digital screens.

As part of the trial, links to wayfinding have also been sent to all customers travelling into London Heathrow and connecting from destinations including New York JFK, Dubai, Mexico City and Houston.

Calum Laming, BA's Chief Commercial Officer, said: “The interactive map is simple to use, allowing our customers to easily locate their departure gates.”

Saturday 22 July 2023

Orange vigneron showcases Austrian grape variety

The Orange wine region is pretty cold - and has several vineyards at significant altitudes.

It makes sense, then for an Austrian grape variety like gruner veltliner to thrive.

Orange's Stockman's Ridge has just released two new grüner veltliners grown by owner Jonathan Hambrook and made by local winemaker Will Rikard-Bell.

The label is is championing grüner veltliner with the release of their 2022 Stockman’s Ridge ‘Signature’ Grüner Veltliner and 2022 Stockman’s Ridge ‘Rider’ Grüner Veltliner.

Two excellent wines, but made in contrasting styles.

Grüner veltliner is intrinsically linked to Austria, where it accounts for around 30% of all wine grape plantings.

In Australia plantings are small, albeit increasing, with over 60 winemakers currently making a grüner. The movement has been led by Hahndorf Hill in the Adelaide Hills. 

The Stockman’s Ridge grüner veltliner vines were planted on the north-western slopes of Mount Canobolas at 800 metres elevation in 2012.

With the vineyard maturing, Hambrook is hoping to shine a spotlight on its potential.

“Orange’s long, cool ripening and high sunshine hours is perfect for this variety,” he says.

“It’s an exciting new variety for the region and one that has a great history growing in the colder, high elevation climates.

“After we planted the vines, we had years of drought. As a result, the vines sent their roots deep in search of moisture.

"Over the past few vintages, we have experienced good vintages and the deep-rooted vines are now producing excellent quality and yields. This has allowed us to experiment with different styles.”

The 2022 Stockman’s Ridge ‘Rider’ Grüner Veltliner is fresh and vibrant, crisp and lean on the palate and unoaked to showcase varietal character.

In contrast, the 2022 Stockman’s Ridge ‘Signature’ Grüner Veltliner was harvested riper to create a fuller, more mouth-filling style.

It was matured in seasoned French oak with regular lees stirring for three months to add textural interest. A small component underwent malolocatic fermentation.

“We are gaining valuable experience with this variety and foresee a great future for it," says Hambrook.

"Riesling andcChardonnay are excelling in the region, and it was logical that grüner veltliner would also succeed. Time will be the judge, but all the indicators so far are positive.”

The "Signature" retails for $40 and the "Rider" is $35. See

Friday 21 July 2023

Discover dishes inspired by centuries of history


Take a spectacular setting on a cliff side overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea and Amalfi harbour.

Add in dishes inspired by the recent discovery of a 2000-year-old fresco depicting a pizza-like dish found in Pompeii.

Throw in one of Italy's most famous pizza chefs and you have a bucket destination restaurant.

La Locanda della Canonica Pizzeria by Gino Sorbillo is a signature eatery at the newly opened Anantara Convento di Amalfi Grand Hotel.

The menu features eight signature pizzas that highlight the finest produce from across the Amalfi Coast region.

Hailing from Naples, chef Sorbillo comes from a long line of pizza makers.

In 1935, his grandfather Luigi opened what was to become one of Italy’s most famous pizzerias in the historic Via dei Tribunali in Naples.

Today, the chef is a global pizza ambassador, secretary of the Neapolitan Pizza Makers Association and owner of pizzerias across the globe.

The new Pompeii Pizza combines traditional Neapolitan pizza-making techniques with ingredients that relate to the ancient Roman era including a combo of leafy vegetables, anchovies, a modern take on garum, a traditional anchovy sauce, topped with walnuts, lemon zest, and olives.

The menu allows ingredients including anchovies from Cetara, mozzarella and ricotta from Agerola, Provolone del Monaco and herbs from the hotel’s on-site convent garden to shine.

For a full gourmet experience, diners can embark on “A Journey through Campania” - a tasting menu of regional stars.

Anantara Convento di Amalfi Grand Hotel is set in a 13th-century Capuchin convent and La Locanda della Canonica Pizzeria by Gino Sorbillo is reached via the “Monks’ Walk” - a delightful clifftop path.

Diners can enjoy an al fresco terrace with views of the sea below.

Pizzeria La Locanda della Canonica by Gino Sorbillo has a tasting menu for €80 per person.

It has been added to my "must do" list.   

For more info see

Thursday 20 July 2023

New rail trail embraced by cyclists, walkers and runners

Cyclists, walkers and runners have taken to the first stage of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail with huge enthusiasm.

Data released by Tweed Shire Council showed more than 70,500 people have used the first 24km section of the trail since its opening four months ago.

The first stage runs from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek and the project will eventually connect Murwillumbah to Casino.

The figures far exceed initial projections.

Tweed Shire Mayor Chris Cherry said there had been significant interest in the opening success of the NRRT.

“I am really proud to confirm that since its opening on March 1, the Tweed section of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail has welcomed approximately 70,550 people, which is an amazing achievement,” he said.

“Our Rail Trail is welcoming an average of 17,638 people per month, which is approximately 4,048 people per week or an average of 578 people per day.

“The original business case for the Tweed section of the NRRT referenced goals of 27,000 people per year. We have absolutely smashed that goal, attracting more than double the anticipated annual number of visitors in our first four months alone.

“We knew the Rail Trail would be extremely popular and there was a lot of interest in this facility but this has blown us away!

“With these impressive patronage numbers has also come confirmation that 87% of trail users have used an associated Rail Trail experience and spent money with a local business, whether it be one of the many cafés, restaurants, accommodation providers or bike-related businesses such as hire, shuttle or transport services.

“Many businesses along the Rail Trail have told us about their successes and we are continually working on trail improvements, addressing some of the impacts the popularity has had on the local villages.”

Surveys show 60% of Rail Trail users start their journey at the Murwillumbah Railway Station and more than 85% of users opt for round trips over a one-way journey.

The path features 26 bridges and two tunnels, including the 500m Burringbar Range tunnel that has micro bats and glow worms

For more info see

Unravelling the mysteries of Penfolds Grange

So you are splashing out a tidy $1000 on the new release of Australia's most collectible wine, the 2019 vintage Penfolds Grange.

You are buying it to enjoy on a special occasion and will be cellaring it properly until that time.

But when should that time be? Next year? In 10 years' time? 20 years? 30 years?

To help with this conundrum, a pre-release media tasting in Melbourne ahead of next month's release of the 69th consecutive release of Grange, a group of leading wine writers (I somehow snuck in) was presented with the chance to taste the 2019 alongside three "sleeper" vintages: 1989, 1999 and 2009.

These wines did not enjoy universal acclaim on their release but offer some clues as to the best time to enjoy a Grange.

The '89, for me, was teetering on the brink and just a little rasined. If you have any in your cellar I'd advise drinking now. 

The '99 and 09 were, however, both superb.

The 2009 has lovely ripe fruit, retains bright colours and is a stunning drink in its optimal drinking window, while the 1999 offers a panoply of complex flavours and is absolutely at its peak right now at 24 years of age.     

The 2019 impressed, too, earning 98 points from me, but it clearly, as is the case with nearly all Grange releases, needs some time to show its full potential. Right now it is beautifully black and composed and is a lovely drink in its youth with both blue/ black fruit and seamless complexity. A harmonious wine for one so young and well worth buying if your budget permits. 

It is 97% shiraz, 3% cabernet blend with fruit from the Barossa, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra and the Clare Valley that spent 19 months in new American oak hogsheads  

"Reassuringly, an overtly worthy new 2019 example befitting the Grange lineage,” said chief winemaker Peter Gago (below).

 The new Grange will be released as part of the ever-growing 2023 Penfolds Collection that spans grape varieties, vineyards, countries and vintages.

Gago says the new releases "embrace the freedom to explore the best viticultural regions across Australia, and now the world, with a distinctive and time-honoured approach to winemaking.

“The Penfolds winemaking team relishes the opportunity to work across two hemispheres and numerous time-zones - with like-minded people and unique winemaking cultures - redefining what ‘pushing the boundaries’ now means.”

Among the Penfolds Collection 2023 highlights are a stunning Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 from an outstanding Limestone Coast vintage, and the inaugural release of Bin 21 Barossa Valley Grenache 2022.

The Australian wines sit among releases from China (currently only available in that market), as well as from Bordeaux; led by the flagship, 2019 Quantum blend and a single-vineyard wine, Penfolds Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 from the famous Gamble Ranch Vineyard.

Here are my top six buys from the new Australian releases: 

Penfolds Bin 707 2021 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon: A dark, rich and complex wine that will reward a minimum 2-3 years of cellaring and opens up impressively in the glass. 97 points. $800.

Penfolds 2021 RWT Bin 789 Barossa Shiraz: Impressive aromas lead on to a palate with power and elegance. A superb drink.  97 points. $200. 

Penfolds Bin 407 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon: This one is an absolute stunner that blends fruit from six different regions of South Australia. Brambly nose, velvety fruit, appealing intensity and extremely varietal. 97 points. $120.

Penfolds Bin 128 2021 Coonawarra Shiraz: A thrilling example of cooler climate shiraz. Dark fruits, Asian spice notes and immediately accessible. The bargain buy of the collection. 97 points.  $65.

Penfolds Bin 21 2022 Grenache: Juicy, brambly fruit and with immediate drinking appeal. A different wine to the house style but delicious and a great choice for a gourmet barbecue. 96 points. $60.

Penfolds Bin 311 2022 Chardonnay: A blend from three states, on the day this edged out even the Yattarna - almost triple the price - with its impressive line and length. Delightful balance between citrus and stone fruit and astutely judged oak. Brilliant. 97 points. $60. 

The wines of the Penfolds Collection 2023 are globally available from Thursday, August 3. 

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Discover a five-star luxury hotel tattoo experience

So you've thought about getting a tattoo?

But you don't want to risk a back street operative or end up with a dodgy tatt or a needle infection?

How about a five-star tattoo experience while you are staying in one of Bangkok's top hotels?

Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel is offering travellers the opportunity to get inked and incensed by one of Thailand’s most famous bamboo tattoo masters: Ajarn Neng Onnut (above).

Anantara Siam is the only hotel in Thailand offering an "exclusive private service by the revered master".

A bamboo tattoo, formally called Sak Yant, is one of the world’s most ancient and sacred traditions and is expertly engraved into the skin entirely by hand using a traditional Khem Sak – a hand-crafted metal rod designed to replicate the shape of a bamboo stick.

These are often passed down to an Ajarn, meaning master in Thai, by their own master, or tutor.

Getting a tattoo has become increasingly popular with foreign tourists to Thailand in recent years, thanks in part to Ajarn Neng who has inked Hollywood actors including Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford and Brooke Shields, as well as Hong Kong actor Alex Fong.

A master, teacher and learned scholar in the art of Sak Yant, the Ajarn has more than a decade of perfecting his craft on over 10,000 people under his Khem Sak.

Sak Yant tattoos are traditional forms of tattooing ancient geometric and deity symbols with Buddhist prayers onto the body and are regarded as sacred blessings that are believed to impart magical powers for luck, protection, charisma, or fortune.

The most famous Yant is the Haah Taew or five-line Yant and Ajarn Neng also inks simple one-line Yants and Gao Yord, a nine-spine Yant, as well as bigger Yants designs like Twin Tigers.

Becoming learned in Sak Yant includes mastering the intricate artwork of the tattoos, which consists of almost 1,000 different graphic images.

Ajarn Neng’s desire to become a master saw him learning how to read and write the entire ancient Khmer and Pali scripts, memorising all the unique prayers and secret spells, chants and mantras that relate to the sacred tattoos.

A private inking session by Ajarn Neng at Anantara Siam is performed in a private treatment room.

A consultation takes place the day before when the master meets and learns about the person’s life and goals in life and decides on a fitting Yant.

Before and after inking the Yant, the Ajarn performs a ceremony where the body and art are blessed, giving the wearer a permanent and deeply significant reminder of the unique experience.

The burning of incense plays an important role, along with the recital of sacred mantras, to invoke good spirits into each Yant design so that they may offer protection against evil forces or bad luck.

Each number of incense sticks burned simultaneously has a specific purpose and most Thai people believe and value odd numbers as auspicious.

The incense sticks - called Mantra Rak - used during the inking session are custom designed and produced by Ajarn Neng.

Prices for a private inking and incense session by Ajarn Neng Onnut at Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel start from 20,000 Thai Baht (around $850) per hour’s inking - one hour is sufficient for a small symbol called Na and for a one-line Yant.

A prior reservation is essential and can be made by visiting or contacting Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel on telephone +66 2 126 8866.

Meet a Grant Burge wine from California

Grant Burge Wines is a name that is synonymous with the Barossa Valley - but it has just released its first wine from California.

Now owned by global giant Accolade Wines, Grant Burge has released the inaugural vintage of its Grant Burge Paso Ink Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a recommended retail price of $US20.

It is the brand's first wine from outside Australia, which seems to be part of a growing trend.

The Grant Burge Paso Ink hails from Paso Robles AVA fruit purchased from over a dozen growers in the California Central Coast region.

The wine has been made by European-based Californian winemaker Ashley Leon, once of James Haselgrove Wines, in partnership with vastly experienced Grant Burge chief winemaker Craig Stansborough.

“It is an honour to be at the forefront of this pivotal era for Grant Burge and exciting to work with this beautiful fruit from such a unique growing region, which I consider home,” said Leon.

Paso Ink will be distributed across the US, but news yet as to whether it will be sold in Australia.


Tuesday 18 July 2023

Has the Commonwealth Games simply become too expensive?

First Durban in South Africa, now the Australian state of Victoria.

Both put their hands up to host the Commonwealth Games - and both found the costs too much to bear.

Durban, you may recall, was to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games but was stripped of hosting rights in 2017 after running into financial difficulties.

Then, today, the Victorian state government rescinded its offer to host the multi-sports event in 2026, saying the event was now too expensive.

The Commonwealth Games Federation said it received only eight hours’ notice of Victoria's withdrawal, which came fewer than 1000 days before the scheduled opening of the event, to be staged in several regional centres.

The London-based organisation said the Victorian government had made decisions “which have added considerable expense” - including introducing more sports, an additional regional hub, and changed venue plans.

These were “often against the advice” of the the Commonwealth Games Federation and Commonwealth Games Australia, the CGF said in a statement.

The CGF called the decision "hugely disappointing" and said it is "committed to finding a solution". But finding a new host at such short notice will be difficult.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the new cost figure was "more than twice the estimated economic benefit" the event would bring to Victoria.

"I've made a lot of difficult calls, a lot of very difficult decisions in this job. This is not one of them," he told a press conference.

"That is all cost and no benefit."

Andrew said the government had considered "all options" including moving the games to Melbourne, before informing CGF of their decision.

Australia has hosted the Commonwealth Games five times with smaller and poorer nations unable to fund the costs of hosting the event.

Canada has hosted four Commonwealth Games and nine nations have hosted in all since 1930.

Two cities have hosted Commonwealth Games more than once: Auckland (1950, 1990) and Edinburgh (1970, 1986).

Now it is the event that no one wants to host. The Commonwealth Games, formerly the Empire Games are an anachronism. Loved by the competors but well past their use by date. 

Affordable Launceston hotel gets a refresh

Heritage-listed Launceston hotel Leisure Inn Penny Royal has just completed a "top-to-toe" upgrade.

Part of the StayWell Holdings hotel property portfolio the hotel has a rare offering of a four-bedroom apartment, catering to families and groups.

The upgrades include redesigned lounges that feature contemporary furnishings and new smart TVs.

Refreshed kitchen spaces provide guests with all the tools to self cater, while the hotel has also installed new carpets throughout, new shower screens in bathrooms, and noise cancelling windows throughout the apartments and hotel rooms.

Future updates include the addition of a lift near the reception area by mid-September.

Beginning life as a corn mill back in 1840, the hotel is adjacent to the Tamar River and the Penny Royal adventure park, close to Cataract Gorge and within walking distance of downtown.

The next two years will see upgrades to more of the group's hotels, with Leisure Inn Pokolbin Hill to follow and new hotels being added to the Australian portfolio.

For more information see Room prices start from $150 per night.