Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Trending Destinations for remainder of 2014

Trending Destinations for remainder of 2014 
Press Release by Virtuoso

The Leading luxury travel network that we are part of, Virtuoso,  harnessing data from its worldwide travel agency members, evealed where the affluent will be venturing for the remainder of 2014, including the crucial holiday time and winter months.  

Announced during the network's annual Virtuoso Travel Week event which we took part of in August,  Virtuoso shared the top destinations for travel overall as well as those spots that are seeing the fastest growth, while also sharing insight on how and why consumers are making travel decisions.  The results ... a surge in demand for Down Under, some surprises in Central Europe and the next evolution in family travel – global citizenship.

Virtuoso Chairman and CEO, Matthew D. Upchurch, shared insights on the buying habits and motivations of upscale travelers.  He noted that the same consumer is buying travel in two polar opposite ways: planning upwards of a year in advance for certain trips while also booking close-in, impulse trips to round out their travels.  Several factors are driving the high demand, most notably the massive rise in tourism with more than one billion people now crossing international borders as tourists, the rise in affluence throughout the world and, of course, the 78 million Baby Boomers who are now traveling.

These factors also have led to an evolution in family and multigenerational travel that Virtuoso has identified.  While the trend line for more than a decade has shown that consumers want to travel to connect with their love ones, using travel to supplement traditional education for children is a new philosophy Virtuoso has termed the "Journey to Global Citizenship."  The desire to connect and build lasting memories as a family still holds true; however, Upchurch says parents and even grandparents are looking at travel as a means of giving the next generation a leg up in the world. 
"One of the smartest things you can do, if you have the means, is take your kids to China or India or Brazil," says Upchurch.  "These countries will influence much of the business being done now and in the future, and kids who have insight into these cultures, who learn to adapt in unfamiliar surroundings early on, and who gain an understanding of the world around them, will have a certain advantage when it's time to enter the workforce."

Upchurch also shared how travelers are approaching many of these destinations.  For the tried and true places, people are looking to experience them in a new way, visiting lesser known sites, absorbing more of the local culture, looking for anything not found in a guide book and, probably most telling, seeking a certain 'feeling' rather than basing destination choices on what to see and do.  His other observation is that travelers are on a hunt to "collect countries." 
"There is a race towards trying to get to some of the more pristine places because of the rise in mass tourism and globalization.  The opening up of some of the new, non-traditional destinations that we've identified, offer even more incentive for travelers to explore."

Drawing upon its data warehouse of more than $32 billion in client transactions, then Virtuoso shared that international (non-U.S. countries) travel is up 21 percent compared to the same time last year.  Travel to Virtuoso's 10 most popular destinations are averaging an 18 percent uptick: 

The Virtuoso "Top 10"

Italy (6%)
Germany (+ 31%)            
United Kingdom (30%)
Mexico (+ 17%)
France (23%)
South Africa (- 5%)
Canada (9%)
Netherlands (+ 18%)
Spain (20%)
Greece (57%)

Perhaps more enlightening, though, are the countries seeing the largest year-over-year growth.

 Virtuoso's "Hot List"

New Zealand (+ 196%) 
Croatia (+ 68%)
Chile (+ 103%)
Australia (+ 58%)
Indonesia (+ 103%)
Ecuador (+ 57%)
Hungary (+ 86%)
Greece (+ 57%)
Hong Kong (+ 72%)
Norway (+ 54%)

The group also revealed that Central Europe is experiencing a surge:  Hungary (86%), Croatia (68%), Austria (48%), Poland (48%), and Czech Republic (23%).  Russia, however, has seen a sharp decline, down 69%.  Overall, travel to European countries is up by 23%.

Virtuoso also provided a glimpse at the network's typical client, sharing that the median age is 56 years (53% are age 35-64) and 70% are married or partnered.  They are affluent with $200,000 median household income and a net worth of $1.75 million.  And, they are well-traveled with 95% owning a passport and 47% prepared to take 4-7 or even more trips this year.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Travel Agents Today

" You're a Travel Agent? I didn't know those still existed!"

We get this question all the time!  Many people probably envision the movie-type travel agent: the lady sitting behind a desk typing away with a big poster that says "China" right behind her. The travel agent still exists, but the model has been completely revolutionized. Forbes explains it best by saying that the
"traditional travel agent, whose main purpose was to take orders and book transactions, has now been replaced by Travel Advisors". 

Believe it or not, upscale Travel Advisers are actually doing better today, after the online revolution (think birth of Expedia) than ever before!  In a recent interview, Matthew Upchurch, Chairman & CEO of Virtuoso said it best:

"During the online revolution, travel agents who were basically human vending machines 
were replaced, but airline executives were scratching their heads wondering how the hell 
could so many others survive when, for a while there, their commissions were cut to zero. 
That is because the airline industry saw the travel agency distribution system as an extension 
of them. But it’s not an extension of them. It’s an extension of the consumer."

With the internet, the plain old "booking and reserving" is vastly easier today than ever before. However, what Travelocity and Kayak cannot do, is make calls to their friend who just happens to be the General Manager of a particular hotel, and request a particular room on a particular floor for you. They can't decipher amongst all of the millions of contradicting reviews terms. Travel Advisors collaborate with their clients, helping to plan better trips, make better decisions, and cash in on the advisor’s hard-earned connections and continuous education. They have become invaluable in a world where online booking means you can do it yourself, but you don’t actually know what you’re getting. Travel Advisors do know, and they can help make sure you actually get what you want.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Fabian in Maldives

Where in the world...
So this is heaven! 
Fabian Lebrija: June 2014

I recently spent 4 unforgettable nights in the Maldives at Taj Exotica Resort and Spa as a guest of Taj Hotels. The lush 56-acre island is what dreams are made of and the moment your boat pulls up, I can promise this: your jaw will drop.

After flying halfway around the world, the last thing you want to deal with is getting on a small float plane or a long boat ride. What’s nice about the Taj Exotica is that a few minutes after you land at the Malé airport, you will be taken in a speedboat for no more than 10 minutes.  Please don’t get me wrong… there are other Amazing properties throughout the Maldives that are worth that extra time such as these amazing properties:

I am just pointing out a “plus” in staying at the Taj Exotica is that it is close to Male. The moment you collect your belongings and clear customs, your worries will disappear and you can stop thinking all together. A Taj representative will be waiting to escort you to the boat, where you will be at your hotel within minutes.

I was fortunate enough to stay at an "overwater bungalow" that had a plunge pool on the balcony. You need to stay in an odd numbered suite since you then get unobstructed views of the Indian Ocean and a bit more privacy (obviously Travelworld of Coronado will take care of this). There’s no need to bring electrical adapters or converters as the rooms have plenty of multi-pronged outlets. One of the nicest amenities with getting an overwater bungalow is that you have your own butler that helps with EVERYTHING.  My butler unpacked my suitcase, took me around the island whenever I needed to go somewhere, brought me lemon and chili for my breakfast in the room… EVERYTHING. It is veeery easy to get in touch with your butler…. Just dial a two digit number from your room and voila!  If you are lazy or in a hurry, you call your butler and get a ride to and from your room to wherever you are going within minutes.


The Maldives is definitely a romantic destination, but can be geared towards families as well.  I personally think pairing with another country is an absolute MUST; for example, the south of India, Sri Lanka (what I did, you can read my post here), or the United Arab Emirates.

The main attractions are water-based. The turquoise color of the water is ridiculously beautiful and warm all throughout the Maldives at roughly 87°F (31°C) in peak season. Guests can pretty much do any type of water sport. I saw people jet ski, wind surf, stand up paddle, parasail, waterski, go for banana boat rides … but the real treat is diving or snorkeling. I focused on this, as it was absolutely impressive. The water was so clear and warm and had beautiful coral and fish.

Other fun things to do are spot small black tip reef sharks, and even pet stingrays. The resident marine biologist does a nightly feeding for both and gives an interesting educational talk. FYI: I was told there are no snakes or mosquitoes in the Maldives so no worries about Malaria. Bugs definitely weren’t a problem and I didn’t use my bug spray once, unlike in India or Sri Lanka.

On my last evening in “paradise”, I took a traditional boat ride and went out on a one-hour sunset cruise. This is worth doing, as you get a feel of the tranquility and serenity of what is the Maldives.

You cannot bring in alcohol. So if you're thinking of bringing in a bottle of bubbly to celebrate (even in your suitecase), leave it behind as it is a strict Muslim country.  Don't get me wrong, you can buy alcohol there and no one cares but you just can't bring it in.

There is absolutely nothing to do in Male, the capital. There is no such thing as a "city center", nightlife (you create your own), nor your typical historical site-seeing. The point of going to the Maldives is entirely to enjoy the water and relax (disconnect)

The Maldives is a bit more expensive than I imagined. I know it’s an island nation (made up of 1,197 islands, 200 of which are inhabited), so everything is rightly marked up but this destination isn’t cheap. Taxation is what drives the prices way up, so be prepared to stuff your wallet before travelling.

December to April is the high season, which encounters the drier northeast monsoon. From May to November you'll experience some rain during the southwestern monsoon that occurs at this time, but you'll have the least company and best prices at the resorts. Plus, surfers will catch the best waves, and divers will see the most life on the reefs. Maldives never sees overcrowding though!

It’s important to note that some Maldivian holidays follow our own Georgian calendar, while others abide by the lunar Islamic calendar. Island holidays won’t affect your resort stay too much, although some visitors have remarked that Maldivians are slightly less hospitable during Ramadan.

Click here to view my photo gallery.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tania in Bahamas 2014

Where in the world...
Bahamas Take 2...
The Kids Edition 

Travelworld of Coronado in Bahamas
The last time I was in the Bahamas it was in March of 2011. I went with some friends. We stayed at Atlantis but at The Cove which is considered 'adult only'. We saw no kids and drank rum punch all day. (Click here for blog from that trip!)

This time I went with my 2 year old and husband! A completely different trip. We stayed at Atlantis for the first half of our trip and although I had been to the Atlantis before, I had stuck to the adults only pool at the Cove. Now I was to venture to the kids only areas. I thought I was prepared.

A bit of background is in order at this point. The entire Atlantis Paradise Island Resort has over 3,600 guestrooms! It is broken up into 6 areas:
  • Coral Towers
  • Royal Towers
  • Beach Tower
  • Harborside ( Residential-style villas)
  • The Reef (Virtuoso)
  • Travelworld of Coronado in Bahamas
    Pool at the Reef. One of many pools.
  • The Cove  (Virtuoso)

The place is massive. No other place in the Caribbean really compares. It has tons of activities for both adults (think Nobu, casino and nightclubs) and children (from dolphin encounters to ‘splish splash’ areas for the little ones). The water park is amazing and guests have free access. There are over 20 restaurants.

Obviously this leads to a lot of crowds and add to it that you even have non-guest people that come for the day (from other hotels or cruises), you could wait quite a while to get on to some of the slides.

The Reef (where we stayed) was nice overall. It is discrete and quiet. You have a lot of kids at the hotel but it is well managed.  I think the secrete here though is if you want to stay at Atlantis and do a bit more luxury, you stay at the Cove (remember…it's the Pool that’s adult only!) and just go to different pools. 

 You have to be very careful of what kind of room size you request and especially the view. Just look at the difference between these two:
Travelworld of Coronado in BahamasTravelworld of Coronado in Bahamas

One thing I noticed about the Bahamas is that it is incredibly expensive. Insanely so. From a bottle of water to dinner or a simple pack of gum, everything is off the charts. There are some meal packages that Atlantis offers and I would look into that if going again with family. Just to give you an idea, WiFi was about $20 a day extra (a pet peeve of mine when hotels charge)
The service was very extreme. Some excellent, some horrible. You would have some wonderful people with the biggest smiles that could not do enough to help you whilst at times you would encounter some people that you knew did not want to be there.

The second half of our time in the Bahamas we stayed at the One & Only Resort – Ocean Club. This is a lot more of how we like to travel as we like quiet, understated luxury. I think if my daughter was older then perhaps Atlantis would be perfect but even then, the two resorts are so close that you can stay at One & Only and spend the day at the waterpark at Atlantis. 

Travelworld of Coronado in Bahamas
Welcome to One & Only
It is very quiet but the good thing is they have two seperate pools. One for kids only and the other for adults. This makes it nice for parents with screaming kids as you don't really bother anyone. They also have a kids "fun zone" which is indoors (in case it gets too hot) with computers, crafts etc. The service was good and the rooms spacious with nice amenities. Although I would say that it is in need of a refurbishment soon given it's a bit old. 
Travelworld of Coronado in Bahamas
My kind of childcare
Travelworld of Coronado in Bahamas
The interesting news is that there is a huge complex being built in Nassau (so closer to the airport) where you will have 4 hotels in one area. With over 400 hectares along the beach, Baha Mar will be home to:
  • Rosewood
  • SLS Hotel (originally the Mondrian)
  •  Grand Hyatt
  • The Baha Mar Casino & Hotel (new concept)

It is slated to be open in December 2014. I’m looking forward to this!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Fabian in Sri Lanka

Where in the world...
Frabian from Travelworld in Sri Lanka

Fabian in Sri Lanka 
On May 3rd I set out on a 2 week adventure! 

The first 5 days in Sri Lanka, then 3.5 days in the Maldives with a pit stop in Istanbul. I couldn’t wait. No one in the office had gone to Sri Lanka and it was a great group of us going, lead by our friend from Taj Hotels.

Frabian from Travelworld in Sri Lanka

The trip started from LAX to Istanbul (nonstop) with Turkish Airlines.  I must say, this airline really stepped up their game.  Their Business class is very comfortable, at a reasonable price, and premium economy is extremely impressive…. Reminded me of a seat on a first class domestic flight.
As there was an 8-hour layover to take the next jump from Istanbul to Colombo, we decided to enjoy the evening in Turkey.  We got in at about 5pm on a Saturday. We had planned a quick Bosporus Cruise and dinner at the pier. Who would ever think there would be traffic at that time??  WRONG.  The streets were packed with cars mushed bumper to bumper.

 The ride was roughly 45 minutes from the airport to the pier, where normally it would take 20 minutes tops.  But it was definitely worth it.  I highly recommend even a 1-hour cruise through the Boshorus.  This really gives you a good “feel” for the city.  After a nice boat ride, followed by a delicious traditional Turkish dinner near the pier, we hopped on the plane again and headed over to Sri Lanka.

Cruise Down Bosporus
Frabian from Travelworld in Sri Lanka

HELLO COLOMBO!  We arrived at the airport, got off the plane and proceeded to customs.  “We are here!”  Wait, what’s this??  Washing machines, refrigerators, coffee makers, microwaves… as you make your way through customs.  Huh??  For a second, I thought I was still on the plane dreaming about being in a Sears.

After the ever-so strange encounter with Sears meeting JFK, we got our bags and were greeted by our Sri Lankan trio; pro driver, guide and assistant guide (prepared by Ceylon Express Tours).  The three wise men were great…. very knowledgeable of the area, flexible, good manners and great English.  They stayed with us throughout the entire stay in Sri Lanka, as the country is relatively small (no need to fly anywhere… train or car is all you need… possibly a tuk tuk as well).

Frabian from Travelworld in Sri Lanka

Frabian from Travelworld in Sri Lanka

The drive from the airport to our hotel was about 1.5 hours. We arrived to the hotel, the Taj Samudra, where traditional dancers were doing their groove at the lobby entrance. The hotel is nice; beach-front with clean rooms and great views. Tip: stay on the top floor, as the hotel recently renovated these rooms. 

After a long-needed sleep on an actual bed, the next morning was a blast.  Our target that day was Kandy (2-hour drive), with a pit-stop at the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala.  We just made it to see the end of the Elephant bathing. We then went to feed the elephants after they were nice and clean. I have to say, getting up close to the largest land animal in the world and feeding it full bananas, watermelon and pineapple… you feel tiny  (even me!). 

Frabian from Travelworld in Sri Lanka
Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala

Next stop was our target city of  Kandy, a larger city around the middle of Sri Lanka. Here is where I felt the similarities of Sri Lanka and India; the people, the food, the hustle and bustle, the crowds etc…We went directly to our hotel, the Mahaweli ReachHotel. After checking-in to the room, we headed right out to see a cultural performance by Kandyan dancers. 

Fabian from Travelworld in Sri Lanka

Following the cultural show, our “tour guide trio" took us to the most famous temple in Sri Lanka, the Temple of the Tooth. It is famous because it safeguards the tooth of Buddha, and people come to catch a glimpse of the tooth through a small window of the room where it is kept. Maybe I was just tired from a full day of experiences, but I wasn’t swayed by the magnificence of the temple. I am sure many people beg to differ but regardless, Buddhist or not, one still finds it very interesting to see the beliefs and respect that the locals have to the temple and its withholdings.

Fabian from Travelworld in Sri Lanka
Temple of the Tooth
Fabian from Travelworld in Sri Lanka

Fabian from Travelworld in Sri Lanka
View from Hotel Room

The next day, we returned to Colombo by train, to then drive to a beach town called Bentota. The train ride is well known for its scenery… unfortunately we did not get this as it was pouring rain and extremely foggy, but you could tell that on a nice day, the views must be incredible (confirmed by my friend Google). TIP: go first class.  The difference is not much monetarily, yet very well worth it.  After the 1 hour train ride and 1.5 hour drive to Bentota, we finally arrived to our hotel; the Vivanta by TajBentota

Vivanta by TajBentota

The town of Bentota is well known for its scuba diving, surfing and its cinnamon!  Believe it or not, the bulk of the world's cinnamon production (80-90%) comes from Sri Lanka. We enjoyed a nice dinner at the hotel and off to bed, to recharge and count some sheep.

The next day, we toured through the city of Bentota and its surroundings, including a visit to a turtle hatchery, a cinnamon and moonstone factory, a pit stop  by side of the road to see how the locals make Coconut Liquor and finished the day with a quick drive to Galle, where we saw the Dutch fortress and the once-most important port on the island (18th century during the Dutch Colonial Period).

Dutch Fortress and Coconut Liquor Tasting
Cinnamon Factory
Moonstone Factory
The beach town was the final leg of our Sri Lanka journey. Overall, my thoughts on Sri Lanka is that it is a very interesting country, filled with rich history, great food (lots of spice), and pleasant people. I would recommend going to Sri Lanka, but only if you pair it with a visit to another country.   Examples are the United Arab Emirates, India, and my personal favorite, Maldives!  The Taj Hotels are great and if you want a bit more luxury, we have 2 Virtuoso properties that are AmanResorts: Amangali in Galle which is in the South West and Amanwella in Tangalle which is in the South East.

We returned to  Colombo by car to take a flight and transport ourselves to PARADISE. The Maldives left me speechless.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Fabian’s trip coming soon......Check out a complete collage of all of Fabian's Pictures here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Land Rover is Virgin Galactic's first global partner, bringing together two world leaders in adventure, innovation and exploration. It has revealed a long-term global partnership with Richard Branson's pioneering commercial spaceline, Virgin Galactic.

Demonstrating their shared vision of pioneering spirit, technological innovation and sense of adventure, the ground breaking partnership was announced against the backdrop of SpaceShipTwo, the world's first commercial passenger carrying spacecraft, together with Land Rover's new Discovery Vision Concept vehicle.

The announcement illustrates the commitment that both brands share to iconic design and engineering excellence and a desire to push the boundaries of travel for the next generation.

The partnership will see Land Rover vehicles become part of daily life for the Virgin Galactic team and for all 'Future Astronauts', the space experience will now begin with Land Rover as they arrive in New Mexico for training, and continue to the moment they drive from the space terminal building to the waiting spaceship. Land Rover will base a fleet of vehicles at the Virgin Galactic test centre in the Mojave Desert, California and at its astounding operational New Mexico base, Spaceport America. (Click here for journal of when Francis Contreras was there)

The exciting announcement was revealed in dramatic fashion on board USS Intrepid, a former aircraft carrier and now a museum dedicated to the exploration of sea, air and space and anchored on the Hudson River. Land Rover's first act as exclusive partner was to bring a unique full-size replica of SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise to New York, where it joined the remarkable British Airways Concorde and its namesake Space Shuttle Enterprise upon the Intrepid. Like the Space Shuttle, SpaceShipTwo is the first of a revolutionary fleet of reusable human spacecraft. Having the vehicles in one place for the first time provided a powerful symbol of human ingenuity and the adventurous spirit of exploration and discovery.

Revealed alongside SpaceShipTwo was Land Rover's Discovery Vision Concept, a vision of Land Rover's future family of Discovery vehicles. The concept car previews dynamic new design language and an array of world first technologies. Building on Land Rover's renowned all-terrain capability, the Discovery Vision Concept represents the ultimate SUV of the future.

The vehicle uses augmented reality technology to display a 'see-through' view of the terrain ahead, making the front of the car 'virtually' invisible from inside the cabin. Gesture Control allows you to open the doors, operate the indicators or turn on the headlamps simply by moving your hand, while Laser Referencing projects visible markings, symbols and imagery onto the ground to aid low speed or tricky manoeuvres.

More than 200 VIP guests witnessed the two game-changing vehicles, which were revealed against a stunning Manhattan background and an awe-inspiring projection mapping sequence.."

 Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic said "We couldn't be more delighted to have Land Rover join us on our incredible journey. It is hard to think of a brand which is more synonymous with exploration and adventure. The safety and engineering excellence of Land Rover's vehicles, which have been the stuff of legend for more than 65 years, are attributes which also lie at the heart of Virgin Galactic. We look forward to crossing the final frontier together and to a long and fruitful partnership."

Phil Popham, Group Marketing Director of Jaguar Land Rover said "This is a marriage of two of Britain's most iconic brands which celebrate shared values, a pioneering spirit and a true sense of adventure. Not only do we both share the same long-term vision to enable mankind to explore, but we also want to develop this partnership to inspire others. From our tens of thousands of employees and customers to schools and colleges, motivating more young people to pursue careers in engineering, science, technology and math - and explore new ways of traveling for future generations.

Land Rover's heart beats 'above and beyond' - we are pioneers on land and Virgin Galactic is the pioneer of space. It's a very special match of brands with a shared vision."

Both brands run significant and highly regarded community relations and STEM education programmes, which encourage young people to aspire to a future in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and together see the huge potential to develop this partnership to inspire others and motivate more young people to pursue careers in these vitally important fields.

The marriage of these two innovative, upscale, discovery brands makes perfect sense!," says Francis Contreras, owner of Travelworld of Coronado and one of the first Accredited Space Agents and future astronaut herself. 

Courtesy of Land Rover, SpaceShipTwo, will remain on display at Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum for the public to view between from 15th to the 22nd April. It will sit alongside other game changing artifacts including the first ever space shuttle Enterprise, the prototype NASA orbiter that paved the way for the space shuttle programme and the record-breaking and revolutionary supersonic passenger airliner, the Concorde.

The Discovery Vision Concept will be on display at the New York Auto Show, which opens on Wednesday 16th April.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Best Of The Best - 2014 Virtuoso Style!

 Check out the 2014 Virtuoso Best of the Best! This year's directory brings a wealth of information on the more than 980 Virtuoso-preferred hotels and resorts worldwide. You'll find tips from Virtuoso travel advisors to help you make the most of your stay, along with details on complimentary amenities like room upgrades, breakfast daily, resort credits and more. Plus, be sure to check out our new Exceptional Experiences throughout the directory, which your Virtuoso travel advisor can custom design just for you. 


See how Virtuoso can open doors for you - around the world! Explore your world, your way, with exclusive amenities at all of the hotels and resorts in this directory:


Navigate to any section of the world and read about Virtuoso's preferred hotels and resorts from Cape Town to Paris. Virtuoso can take you anywhere - in style.


Voted outstanding in select categories by Virtuoso travel advisors, take a look at these hotels are standouts this year and start planning your next luxury getaway.


The Virtuoso Hotels & Resorts Preview program welcomes seven extraordinary properties. Review the newest 'Best of the Best' in this issue.


These are just a few of the best parts of 2014's 'Best Of The Best'. Flip through for information, pictures and to get to know some of Virtuoso's finest properties, then contact Travelworld of Coronado to help plan your next vacation.