Monday, 31 March 2014

Melbourne Star Observation Wheel for a birds-eye view of Melbourne

On a recent visit to Melbourne I had the pleasure of riding in the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel.

Melbourne is the capital city of Victoria Australia. It is a wonderful city to walk around and look up at the many tall heritage and modern buildings in the city center. What does it look like to look down on Melbourne? One could take a helicopter flight, but the far better alternative is to ride one of the cabins on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel. They actually call the rides flights, as you gently revolve around the huge wheel.

The Melbourne Star Observation Wheel is one of only three giant observation wheels in the world and it is the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. (The other two are in London and Singapore.) The wheel houses 21 large air-conditioned cabins that provide 360 degree views of Melbourne. They are so large that up to 20 people can move freely around each cabin. There is a central bench seat for those who would like to sit down during their flight. They have glass walls and ceilings, so views are in all directions. The remarkable thing is that each cabin slowly rotates so that you are always on the outside of the wheel with no bars blocking your view. The flight lasts for about half an hour, which gives plenty of time to take the awesome views in.

In the boarding areas leading up to the wheel are various panels that give information about Melbourne, it history, and the observation wheel itself. Make sure you allow time to read these and take in all the information before boarding. Once in the cabib there is an audio commentary giving information of the sights that are seen below.

Wonderful views can be seen of the Melbourne CBD, the Yarra River and the new Dockalnds development including Harbour Town. At its peak, the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel is 120 metres high, or the equivalent of a 40 storey building. There are unobstructed views of up to 40 kilometres away. The Melbourne Star Observation Wheel is open daily from 10am – 10pm with the last flight departure at 9.30pm. I had a day-time viewing, even though I have been told the night time view of the lit up city is spectacular.

Ticket prices vary, with various concessions available. Special Encore prices are avaialble which enable a day and a night viewing. See their website for pricing details.

Getting to the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel is easy by tram, or driving and parking at a nearby car park. After the flight make sure you visit the souvenir shop and see the photos taken to decide if you would like to purchase them or not. There are various other things to do near the wheel, such as shopping, dining or ice skating, to make a full day of your visit.

So next time you visit Melbourne make sure you take your own flight on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel.

Location: 101 Waterfront Way, Docklands, Victoria 3008 Melbourne
Phone: +61 (0)3 8688 9688

Ten year old message in a bottle found in the Whitsundays

A message in a bottle that was left 10 years ago has been found on Whitehaven Beach. Staff from Cruise Whitsundays found the bottle lying in the sand dunes and found a message inside.

The message was damp and as it was removed small bits fell off and blew away, but were found and the note put back together, revealing the message left by six holidaymakers in 2004.

The message reads: "5th August 04. We, the good friends and crew of the 'Blueberry Hill' DO PLEDGE to return to this spot at a time in the future to retrieve this bottle and remember the good times we?ve had and the good friends we have. Signed by [signatures]."

Joe and Susan Marguccio and Wayne and Sandy Henderson (both of Melbourne) and Pete and Marion Heywood (now of Sydney) chartered the motor catamaran 'Blueberry Hill', on a 'skipper yourself' or 'bareboat' holiday with Cumberland Charter Yachts in August 2004 to celebrate Joe's 50th Birthday.

They brought the bottle of Penfold's St Henri up from Melbourne with them and was one of many bottles enjoyed on the trip. On cruising to Whitehaven Beach and spending the day there, they wrote the note, signed it, took photos, tied a small yellow rope to a tree as a marker and buried it deep in the sand dunes, making a pact to return one day and find it.

"Ten years ago, we had no idea it would get to this! We thought we'd be lucky to find the bottle!" said Joe Marguccio on learning of the discovery.

Cherie Louise, who found the bottle along with co-worker Monique Hartley-Smith, said the pair were completing their standard check for rubbish on the beach before departing with day cruise guests when they saw the bottle lying in the sand dunes. “We joked before we picked it up – wouldn’t it be funny if there was a message in it!” Ms Louise said. "There was - we were thrilled and proceeded to try and remove the note but because it was damp some bits flew away which we had to walk up the beach and recover so we were able to read the note," she said. "It was then that we googled 'Blueberry Hill' and tracked it down as being a Cumberland Charter Yachts vessel so we contacted them to let them know,"

"From there they were able to pin down the group who hired the ‘Blueberry Hill’ all those years ago and the story was complete!"

The Hendersons had returned to the Whitsundays in 2008 and searched Whitehaven Beach high and low but could not find the tree or marker and disappointedly returned to report to their friends that they suspected they would never again find it.

"We were quite confident of being able to locate the area because at the time when we buried the bottle, we had taken photos both from the beach and looking back from the ‘Blueberry Hill’," said Sandy Henderson. "Little did we think at that time how quickly trees and shrubs grow and areas change, Wayne and I walked the length and width of Whitehaven for hours and could not find any signs of where that bottle could be!" she said. "Then last year Wayne and I travelled to Queensland again and spent four days in Airlie Beach so we visited ‘Blueberry Hill’ in the marina to reminisce about the fantastic time we spent on her in the Whitsundays and sent photos back to the others,"

"We are all still good friends and celebrate everybody's 'milestones' and when we are together always talk about the 'Blueberry Hill' and Whitsundays and rate it as one of the best holidays we have ever done and would recommend it to anyone, a must for the ‘bucket list’!"

Cumberland Charter Yachts together with Cruise Whitsundays has offered for the group to return and have another Whitsundays sailing holiday in August 2014 to celebrate Joe’s 60th Birthday and to meet Cherie and Monique.

Cruise Whitsundays Contact

If calling from overseas: +61 7 4846 7000
If calling from Australia: 07 4846 7000

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Disneyland - 15 hours in the happiest place on earth!

What a day! Walked into this great American theme park when it opened at 9am and stayed till when it closed at midnight. This was the second day of having fun in this magical place.

The day was spent riding on the various and seeing several entertainment performances.
Explored Toontown today for the first time. This is the children's area of Disneyland, though I could not resist on going on its roller coaster. I plucked up courage and went on The Twilight Zone - Tower of Terror. I liked this so much I went back several times.

Over at nearby California Adventure Park I went on the large ferris wheel known as Mickey's Fun Wheel. Here people have a choice of going on the fixed or swinging gondolas. You can guess which one I chose.

Managed to fit in seeing several shows and performances - "The Laughing Stock Co" in the Golden Horeshoe, "Remember ... Dreams Come True" Fireworks Spectacular, "Aladdin - A Musical Adventure" in the Hyperion Theatre, and "Fantasmic" on the Rivers of America. All were very different from each other and all enjoyable,

The park was crowded, being a weekend and Spring Break. This meant some of the queues were long, but the Fast Pass and single rider options meant a quicker entry.

I will place some photos up here when I find the time in the coming days.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Universal Studios - what a fun-filled movie day!

Main Entrance
Universal City is an actual city. It has its own post code, own fire station, and of course is home to Universal Studios. For more than 50 years Universal has produced movies form the sound stages and back lots of its studios. For more than half of that time they have operated the Universal Studios theme park. 25 years ago I spent a day of my honeymoon at Universal, and today I revisited this popular theme park in California.

Has it grown over the years! More attractions, more rides, more high tech effects, and more people visiting it each year.

Simpsons ride
My aim was to have at least one ride on all the rides and see each of the performances. This I achieved, bar the animal show, as I ran out of time. Some I went on more than once, such as the Transformers ride and the Mummy ride, which I went I on 4 times each. I went on several others twice, such as the new Simpsons ride.

The highlight was going on the back lot tour to see the various outdoor western, metro, Mexican, dinosaur sets, which have detailed fronts but no backs. Cabot Cove was still there as it was 25 years ago, the set for Murder She Wrote, Mchale's Navy and Gilligan's Island. We actually drove along Wisteria Lane. The highlight was going through the 360 3-D King Kong experience and the subway earthquake.

We arrived when the park opened at 9am, and only left when it closed at 6pm. It was a fun filled day and could have spent more time there to appreciate all that it offers. 

Wisteria Lane
The up-keep of the Universal Studios amusement park is excellent, and new attractions are being added all the time. The one they are working on now is the new Harry Potter ride. The staff looked the part in the costumes appropriate for each ride, and were still smiling at the end of the day.

When the park closed we went and explored the new City Walk area of shops and restaurants, where we had dinner before retuning to the next-door Hilton Universal City for our last night. A quick spa in the outdoor whirlpool before packing our bags for an early morning departure tomorrow morning.

Hollywood - the home of movie stars

Chinese Theatre
Think of movies and Hollywood is the first place that springs to mind. The stars, the bright lights, the studios all add to the glamour and intrigue of this locality in Los Angeles. After a restful nights sleep at the amazing Redbury Hotel, located right in the heart of Hollywood, it was just a short stroll along the Hollywood Walk of Fame to the Chinese Theatre. It was a slow walk reading all the names on the stars on the pavement.

Batman's gates
Here we boarded the Starline Movie Stars Homes tour and drove by many famous actor, actresses and singers homes in Hollywood, West Hollywood and Beverley Hills. Some of these were Australians now living over here.

After lunch we then boarded the Starline Los Angeles Hop-On Hop-Off tour. This drove around the various districts of Los Angesles including China Town, Japan Town, the financial, fashion, jewellery, theatre and civic districts. Some wonderful buildings were sighted, ranging from the vary old to the very new. The Walt Disney Concert Hall was a most striking piece of modern architecture.

Laurel & Hardy
Back in Hollywood it was time to see some of the movie stars immortalized in wax at the Hollywood Wax Museum. This had a wonderful collection life-like movie stars sculptured in wax. Some were veterans of the entertainment scene while others were relatively newcomers. There were even a few Australians included in the collection, including Steve Irwin.

After dinner it was time to relocate to the Hilton at Universal City.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Price alone not key for regional meeting planners

GIBTM 2014 today unveiled the eagerly anticipated release of the inaugural Middle East Buyers Report today (Tuesday 25 March), which surveyed planners from 10 countries in the Middle East, to gain direct insight into their purchasing habits and the decision-making process. 

The results highlighted that price alone was not a key driver for regional buyers in the meetings and incentives sector.

The myth about price-conscious buyers was clearly highlighted in three very specific questions. When regional buyers were asked which features were most important when choosing a venue, price came in fourth place (48%) behind ease of access (61%), Safety and security (52%) and professionalism of staff (52%).

It was a similar response when meeting planners were asked about the least helpful type of behaviour of venue staff. Inflexibility in price negotiation came in fourth position (55%) behind venue changes not communicated (61%), slow staff response (58%) and staff turnover (58%).

“Another interesting statistic was the fact that the flexibility of meetings space ranked higher than price, when considering which features of a venue were most important to a buyer,” said report author, Rob Davidson, Senior Lecturer in Events Management at the University of Greenwich, London.

Overall the study analysed the preferences of Middle East-based meeting planners in terms of the types of destinations and venues that they choose for their events, but also how they wish to interact with the sales and marketing professionals that are competing to host those events,” said Davidson.

Other highlights of the study were that the UAE is the leading destination 66% of meeting planners reporting having held meetings there in the last two years. Outside of the region, approximately 70% of planners also said that they had selected European destinations for their events with France, Spain, Austria, Italy and Turkey, respectively, the most popular countries.

Almost 50% of respondents have also held events in Asian countries, with Malaysia, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka the top three ranked destinations.

The report also found that 97.5% of respondents opt for hotels in terms of venue preference, and this sends out a clear message to properties of the need to invest in state-of-the-art facilities, technology and offer dedicated propositions.

“The results from this unique survey are invaluable. It is also indicative of GIBTM’s commitment towards content-rich knowledge programmes. Understanding the traits and mindsets of Middle Eastern buyers is critical, to the viability of destinations, hotels and venues,” said Lois Hall, Exhibition Manager, GIBTM.

This ground-breaking research formed an integral part of the enhanced GIBTM Knowledge programme, sponsored by Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) and supported by the world’s leading industry associations, ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association, SITE (Society of Incentive Travel Executives), MPI (Meetings Professional International).

This year's GIBTM event, which is taking place at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) until tomorrow (Wednesday 26 March), is being attended by local, regional and international suppliers and buyers. Over 8,000 face-to-face appointments have been arranged alongside an expanded line-up of interactive seminars and panel sessions.

GIBTM expects to welcome over 250 regional and international Hosted Buyers from 36 countries who will meet with up to 300 exhibitors from 35 destinations from around the world. Of which 74 are brand new to the show, with companies from Kazakhstan, Russia, Morocco, South Africa and South Korea making their debuts, the highest level since the show’s inception.

The European Pavilion which returns due to popular demand, welcomes 25% more exhibitors, again the highest level in the shows history. For more information, please log onto

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Middle East is fastest growing international meetings market

Association meetings in region triple over 10 years – ICCA report acknowledges importance of Middle East MICE market dominating Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings (GIBTM) opening day

The Middle East is the fastest growing international association meeting market in the world according to an International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) study which was revealed recently, coinciding with the eighth edition of Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings (GIBTM) which opened today (Monday 24 March).

Highlighting Abu Dhabi’s support for the meetings and incentive industry HH Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development and Board Member of the National Council of Tourism and Antiquities, attended the show after Sultan Al Daheri, Acting Executive Director of Tourism Sector, at the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), had led the official opening tour at GIBTM.

After the official tour, the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012, issued a statistics report revealing that the total number of regularly-occurring, internationally-rotating association meetings is increasing by 100% each decade and has been consistently doing so for the last 50 years, with no signs of a slowdown.

Commenting on the findings, Martin Sirk, CEO of ICCA, which is the most global meetings industry association comprising almost 1,000 member companies and organisations in over 90 countries, said:

“The Middle East joined the Information Revolution more recently than most regions, so it is not surprising to see some of the world’s fastest growth rates here, now that excellent meetings infrastructure has been developed, governments have created knowledge strategies to underpin their economic development agendas. We are confident that the region will enjoy even greater international meetings activity in the future, based on these underlying fundamentals,”

The report highlighted that between 1998 and 2002, there were 532 association meetings in the Middle East. That figure had grown to 905 between 2003 and 2007 and then expanded once again between 2008 and 2012 to 1,776 association meetings.

“The number of meetings in the Middle East has even grown even quicker than in other regions, it has more than tripled over the last decade,” said GIBTM Exhibition Manager Lois Hall.

ICCA will also lead a panel of experts tomorrow (Tuesday, 25 March) when 3rd Vice President ICCA BOD member, Steen Jakobsen moderates a session on the top ten ‘do’s and don’ts’ when organising international meetings in the Middle East. This year, GIBTM welcomes over 250 regional and international Hosted Buyers from 36 countries who will meet with up to 300 exhibitors from 35 destinations from around the world. Of which 74 are brand new to the show, with companies from Kazakhstan, Russia, Morocco, South Africa and South Korea making their debuts, and the European Pavilion returns with 25% more exhibitors.

Another headlining report at GIBTM is the eagerly anticipated release of the inaugural Middle East MICE Buyers Report tomorrow (Tuesday 25 March), which surveyed planners from across the region to gain direct insight into their purchasing habits and the decision-making process. A preview revealed that the UAE is the leading destination 66% of meeting planners reporting having held meetings there in the last two years, with Dubai the most popular location.

The newly launched Business Travel @GIBTM focus, will feature a dedicated panel discussion that will take place tomorrow (Tuesday 25 March) offering unique insight into this commercially vital sector, where the latest trends in regional business travel will be discussed in an interactive forum. Specialist exhibitors from leading regional business travel suppliers such as Kanoo Travel, Al Shamel Travel and will showcase their services on the show floor in the Business Travel Zone, joining 62 other business travel related exhibitors this year. For more information, please log onto

Monday, 24 March 2014

The Queen Anne Hotel - the wonderful Victorian Bed & Breakfast Hotel in San Francisco

I have had the privilege of staying in the luxury Queen Anne Hotel in San Francisco for the last two nights. This is a unique Bed & Breakfast boutique style hotel that exhibits the Victorian style architecture and decor in all its glory.

It is unlike the other chain hotels that tend to have all the guest rooms looking exactly the same as each other. Each of the 48 rooms has different decor and furnishings, all in the Victorian era style. There is marble and bay windows. This does not mean that modern touches are skipped out on, there are modern bathrooms, wi-fi, coffee makers, flat screen TV's, and digital phones. The beds are comfy and luxurious, often combing antique bed heads with modern mattresses.

There are several different room types to choose from. I was fortunate to stay in the Executive Suite. This is the ultimate suite for the travelling executive and features one queen bed, two flat-screen TVs and a separate living room with a queen pull-out sofa bed, DVD player, coffee maker, microwave, refrigerator, Wi-Fi and deluxe continental breakfast. My daughter slept on the queen bed in the bedroom, and I slept on the queen pull-out sofa bed in the living room.

I was impressed how smooth the check-in was, and how friendly the staff were at welcoming us to this hotel.

To get to the guest rooms on the upper floors there is a choice of using the grand staircase or the modern elevator, which has the appearance of an old one with the use of oak panelling and seat and a chandelier. I often went up in the elevator but came down on the stairs.

The front reception desk, Foyer and Parlour look absolutely charming with antique furniture, guilded artworks, lighting and luscious drapes all adding to the Victorian charm. The hallways in the upper floors were also filled with antiques, some original from the Queen Anne Hotel’s previous occupants.

Each afternoon a social hour is held where drinks and freshly baked cookies are served in the Parlour. Unfortunately, we did not get to enjoy these as we were still out and about sightseeing each afternoon. Other guests commented how they appreciated these sitting by the cosy gas/wood fires.

An ample breakfast was served each morning in the Dining Room. There was a wonderful choice of cereals, fruit breads, muffins and croissants, hot food, tea, coffee and fruit juices, The self-made waffles were hug and yummy.

The Queen Anne Hotel is located on Sutter Street in the Pacific Heights area of San Francisco, a quite area away from the hustle and bustle of other areas. It is only a short bus ride that takes you to these other areas.

San Francisco has many Victorian style houses which we admired on our bus sightseeing tours. It was wonderful to stay at the Queen Anne Hotel which was the perfect example of a Victorian style building. The building was built in 1890 and opened as Miss Mary Lake’s Finishing School for Girls. It was then the Cosmos, an exclusive gentlemen’s club. The Episcopal Diocese then used it as The Girls Friendly Society Lodge. After being run down and boarded up, it opened as The Queen Anne Hotel in 1980 after extensive renovation and restoration. For a more detailed history of the Queen Anne Hotel, see yesterday’s article in The Holiday and Travel Magazine

Queen Anne Hotel

1590 Sutter Street, San Francisco, California 94109
Contact: 415-441-2828 Fax: 415-775-5212

San Francisco - Italy, Golden Gate Bridge

Little Italy
Up early today for another full day in San Francisco. Checked out of the Westin St Francis and boarded a bus at Union Square to travel to Washington Square only to discover it was the wrong bus. Got off at its destination and walked a few blocks and boarded another bus which took us to Washington Square.

Here we met our tour leader for our North Beach/Little Italy Walking Food Tour. We were joined by 8 others for this 3 hour walk around some of the best shops in Little Italy. We sampled coffee, chocolates, breads, olive oil, pastries, pasta and pizza. We saw how some of these were made and the equipment used.

Fisherman's Wharf
A short bus ride took us to Fisherman's Wharf where we walked around for an hour, spending some time in the Musee Mecanique, an amusement arcade with many old fun machines in working order.

We then boarded the Hop On Hop Off Golden Gate Bridge Tour, which took us over the bridge to the quaint town of Sausalito.

We came back to Fisherman's Wharf, walked through the Cannery shops, and walked on to Ghirardelli and sampled some of its yummy chocolates.

Golden Gate Bridge
It was then on to the Hop On Hop Off Night Bus Tour, which took us to parts of San Francisco we had not seen before. Caught a bus back to Union Square and dined at Burger King, which at one stage had stores in Australia. Another bus took us along Sutter Street to our new lodging for the next 2 nights, the Queen Anne Hotel. This is an amazing B&B hotel full of charm and character.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

San Francisco - Chocolates, Parks and Shops

San Francisco Gourmet Chocolate Tour
After a restful nights sleep at The Handlery Hotel, it was just a matter of crossing Geary Street to checkin to our new hotel for the night, The Westin St Francis. It was early morning, so we left our bags at the Bell Desk.

As I am a lover of chocolate, I could not resist going on The San Francisco Gourmet Chocolate Tour. We walked up Powell Street to catch the Cable Car down California Street to the starting point of the tour, near the Ferry Building. Our small group of fellow chocolate lovers were led by our knowledgeable guide on a 3 hour walking tour visiting 7 of San Francisco's most interesting chocolate shops. The best part was eating the samples of the finest American and imported chocolates!

The Tour ended up at the Westfield Shopping Centre, where we said goodbye to the tour group and had lunch at a Japanese restaurant.

San Francisco Victorian house
We then walked back to Union Square and boarded the Hop On Hop Off Golden Gate Park Tour. This was the last departure for the day, so we stayed on the bus for the entire loop. Sitting on the top deck of the open bus we were able to view the California Academy of Sciences, the M. H. deYoung Memorial Museum, Japanese tea Garden, Botanical Gardens, and Conservatory of Flowers. We passed many fine Victorian houses and Japantown on the way.

After we returned to Union Square we explored the Westfield Shopping Centre until it closed for the evening and other shops nearby our hotel. Then it was back to the Westin St Francis to settle in for the night.  

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Technology driving MICE sector strategy

As the region’s leading platform for inbound and outbound MICE and business travel industry professionals, the technology sessions or ‘Event Camp’, at the 2014 Gulf Incentives, Business, Travel and Meetings (GIBTM) exhibition, will analyse the way technology is driving the future of the region’s MICE sector development.

According to GIBTM’s Exhibition Manager Lois Hall, “It is critical that delegates get to grips with future trends and innovations, allowing them to better plan and execute their meetings and business strategies, adapting them to the fast-paced, competitive business world in which we live,” said Hall.

Key sessions at this year’s event, which returns to Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) on 24-26 March 2014, include ‘Trends in Event Connectivity & What it all means’ a thought-provoking session by Mike Clanton, Event High Density Wi-Fi Advisor, EMEA Manager Enterprise Conference Solutions, who will pose the question should venues offer free Wi-Fi and indeed will that be enough?

‘Build your Knowledge and Industry Skills with ‘Presentology!’ is a tailored session especially for event organisers who want to learn how to maximise the benefits of interactive technology at their events, presented by John Quinn, ‘Presentologist’, Satellite Visual Communication FZCO.

“This demo-led session will be packed full of innovative ideas and will include straightforward, hands-on training, case studies and advice on incorporating interaction,” said Hall.

Chris Pouney, Consultant in Business Travel; Owner and Senior Consultant, Severnside Consulting LTD, will be leading a panel of experts discussing technology and digitisation of business travel and other key industry trends – and getting to grips with key industry issues.

Tim Chapman, General Manager - Digital will revisit the ‘Future Trends for Hybrid Events’ providing his views on what hybrid events will look like in just a few short years from now. He will also provide his insights into how the events world has been developing over the last few years and how that is influencing the future.

Last year, in what became a first for the Middle East GIBTM 2013 gave delegates a glimpse of how technology would shape events in the future. It became the first show in the region to present a hybrid event which broadcast presentations from both the show floor and streamed them online from destinations as far afield as the US and Australia. It extended GIBTM’s reach to an online global audience of 16,000 users across 10 countries in just two hours.

“Event Camp will be returning again this year and we are looking forward to welcoming speakers from around the world who will be streamed-in live. Virtual delegates will be able to watch and listen to content online both during and after the show and tweet their comments to followers around the world, engaging people who would not otherwise participated in the event,” said Hall.

According to Doha-based ICT industry commentator Damian Radcliffe, recent facts and figures underscore the importance of technology in the region. 28 million Facebook users log on daily, 50% of those via a mobile device. According to Ericsson, there are 354 million mobile phone subscriptions in the MENA region, 40% of which are smart devices. In the UAE 37% surf the mobile web for more than six hours a day.

Other new initiatives for GIBTM 2014 include the Business Travel @GIBTM, a networking opportunity for the business travel industry, with attendees invited to participate in the Corporate Travel Networking lunch sponsored by the Hyatt Capital Gate, Business Travel Knowledge seminar, as well as the GIBTM Official Networking Reception sponsored and hosted by Yas Island on Tuesday 25th March.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Rock of Ages - the best party in Los Vegas!

Of the many shows in Las Vegas Rock of ages is an actual musical. It tells a story by word, action and songs. Set in the 1980’s it features 28 hit songs from that era. It is based on the 2006 Broadway musical and the adapted 2012 movie starring Tom Cruise.

I was fortunate to see Rock of Ages tonight. It was a fun, lively performance that I thoroughly enjoyed. It combined a love story, comedy and awesome music in a high energy show.

The narrator was hilarious bringing the various scenes together. The band, lead and chorus singers, sets and lighting were brilliant and all added to the fast paced vitality of the show.

Well known songs include “We built this city”, “The final coutdown”, ” We’re not gonna to take it”, “Here I go again”, “Can’t fight this feeling”, and “I want to know what love is”.

We were given fake lighters on the way into the show, which when clicked on at the appropriate moment in the show meant that the audience was awash with tiny LED Lights.

Set in L.A.'s infamous Sunset Strip in 1987, Rock of Ages tells the story of Drew, a boy from South Detroit and Sherrie, a small-town girl, both in L.A. to chase their dreams of making it big and falling in love. Rock of Ages takes you back to the times of big bands with big egos playing big guitar solos and sporting even bigger hair! Yes, back them hair do’s were big and bold.

This is Vegas' Best Party! So make sure that you go as see Rock of Ages when in Vegas!

BASE Entertainment who puts on Rock of Ages, aslo operates the following permanent shows and theatre space in Las Vegas. The shows and venues include:
  • Rock of Ages at the Venetian/Palazzo Resort & Casino
  • Jersey Boys at Paris Las Vegas
  • Million Dollar Quartet at Harrah’s Las Vegas
  • Absinthe ‘stripside’ at Caesars Palace
  • Peepshow at Planet Hollywood
  • Defending the Caveman at Harrahs
  •  Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Venetian/Palazzo Resort & Casino


The Venetian,
3355 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89107


Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday at 8pm; Saturday 7pm and 10pm


702-414-9000 or 866-641-7469
Tickets are at any Venetian or Palazzo box office.


Twitter: @RockOfAgesVegas

The 14th Wuzhen Temple Fair is Opening Soon

The year of 2014 is the 14th Temple Fair in Wuzhen scenic zone. This year it is from March 29th to April 20th, 2014, totally 23 days. Tourists will see performance both at Wuzhen East Scenic Zone and Wuzhen West Scenic Zone.

Different from the previous Temple Fair, this year will see two new activities. One is private theatricals which was an entertainment party with hired performers held at home on auspicious occasions. With the development of tourism, Wuzhen restores this folk culture and has the performance at Ya Ya Teahouse during the Temple Fair. The other new activity is walking the silkworm flower door which will be held on the opening ceremony.

It’s a folk culture for Wuzhen natives to have Temple Fair in the purpose of praying for the harvest of cocoon, as silkworm breeding is one of the main industries in Wuzhen. With long established and rich cultural history, there is a broad range of performance for tourist to have fun. On the opening ceremony, a memorial ceremony will be held for Silkworm Goddess, which attracts hundreds of local people coming to Silkworm Goddess Temple to burn incense and pray for cocoon harvest. Followed by opening ceremony, tourists are encouraged to pause and enjoy all aspects of the temple fair activities including silkworm Goddess parade, bamboo dance, dragon dance and boat pageant.

It’s also a carnival for local people, as it’s leisure time before the busy silkworm breeding. People all come out to the square to watch performances. A variety of traditional shows such as puppet shows, magic shows, kongfu shows and monkey tricks are presented to brighten up the festival.

People who are interested in Wuzhen cuisine, it’s a good opportunity to have a trial of spring food. Different kinds of food and snacks are offered at temple fair. In March, when everything turns green, a variety of seasonal food is presented to serve tourists. Sautéed vegetable with mushroom, steamed salty pork with spring bamboo shoot, and sautéed fish in vinasse are famous food of all time especially when green grass are growing everywhere. In Wuzhen, there are other four famous food, such as sautéed whelks, sautéed local vegetable with bean curd, dried Tofu slice with local vegetable, and scrambled egg with Chinese chives.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Cirque du Soleil - Zarkana - a visually stunning acrobatic spectacular

What does a person do in Las Vegas? Visit the casinos, shop, eat out at restaurants and of course see a show. Las Vegas is blessed to have 8 Cirque du Soleil shows to choose from. I chose to see Zarkana, which is presented in the large theatre in the ARIA Resort and Casino.

The theatre was near full, but people were quickly shown to their seats. What great seats to see this stunning theatre spectacular! Section 103 Row F Seat 4 - right in the front middle for a perfect view of all action on the stage.

Before the show started the circus performers dressed in their stage costumes mingled with the audience. This gave an opportunity to see the costumes close up. They were all mainly white with accents of color.

The Zarkana show tells a loose story of how an old dilapidated circus comes to life. It features an international cast of 70 world class acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, high wire and trapeze artists. They were all amazing on, around and above the stage. Each one highlighted a different skill of the performers and were all breathtaking to see. During scene changes clowns entertained the audience with their antics.

Then 90 minute show went quickly and it was obvious all the audience were thrilled with what they saw. The lighting highlighted the performers, the video special effects were awesome, the sets stunning, the music was loud and boppy.

Outside the theatre was a Zarkana shop that sold souvenirs and clothing from the show. The shop mannequins modelled some of the costumes from the show.

Chocolate creation
A nearby window featured a Jovian character from Zarkana. This display was created by the Jean Philippe Patisserie. Featured in Zarkana’s act “Third Kind” the Jovian characters are extraterrestrial that perform a group number with Cyr wheels on the stage while others perform in the air, twisting and turning in hoops – creating a dizzying tableau filling the stage. The visually stunning chocolate creation is created from:
  • 99 lbs 3 oz of chocolate for the Jovian,
  • 77 lbs 2.6 oz of chocolate for the snake (25,000 little chips),
  • 77lbs 2.6 oz of rolling fondant, and
  • 837 lbs 12.1 oz of sugar to crystallise the eyeballs.

This was my first Cirque du Soleil I have ever seen. It has wet my appetite to see some of others. Touring Cirque du Soleil shows often come to Australia, so I must make the effort to see the next one when it comes here.

The other Cirque du Soleil shows to see in Las Vegas are:
  • CRISS ANGEL, at the Luxor
  • KA, at the MGM Grand
  • The Beatles LOVE, at The Mirage
  • Mystere, at Treasure Island
  • “O”, at Bellagio
  • Michael Jackson ONE, Mandalay Bay
  • Zumanity, at New York Hotel


Zarkana performances are held Friday through Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
There are no performances on Wednesdays and Thursday. (Yes, performers need to have a break.)


-by phone 1- 877-253-5847
-in person the ARIA Box Office
2nd Floor Promenade Level
3730 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV


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Stratosphere Hotel, Casino & Tower

The Stratosphere
There are many hotels and resorts to stay at in Las Vegas. For my first 2 nights in America and Las Vegas I chose to stay at the Stratosphere Hotel, Casino and Tower. I had flown from Australia that day – arriving 4 hours before I left on the same day, and caught a bus to Las Vegas. I was ready to sleep!

Check-in was quick, and the various staff I met during my stay were friendly.

This hotel has several high blocks of hotel rooms, some which have recently been updated. I stayed in one of the older ones, which was OK but a bit dated. As an example, it has small flat screen TV, but the old TV box cabinet is still in the room. There were limited power points in the room, there was no way to make a cup of tea or coffe in the room, and the internet was incredibly slow. On check in I was offered a recently renovated room for an additional charge. A better approach may have been to offer me a lower room charge for staying in this un-renovated room.

View to The Strip
A feature of the Stratosphere is the several restaurants and buffets it offers to guests and visitors. The Top of the World restaurant is 800' above the ground at the top of the tower and offers 360 degree panoramic views of Las Vegas. There is also McCall's Heartland Grill, Fellini's Ristorante, Roxy's Diner, Buffet, Level 8 Pool Cafe, Tower Pizzeria, Starbucks, Level 107 Lounge, and Sandwich Carvery 108. There are a number of fast food outlets in the shopping aracde on the second level.

The design of the Stratosphere makes it easy to see from all directions around Las Vegas. The central 1.149' tower projects high in the sky. An observation deck on the 112th floor offers 360 degree panoramic views around Las Vegas. Tickets to this observation deck cost Adults $18.00, however there is no charge for hotel guests. There are several amazing rides at the top of the Tower. The Big Shot, X-Scream, and Insanity cost $15.00 for a ride, and the SkyJump costs $109.99 and up.

To me there are three drawbacks with staying at the Stratosphere.

Firstly, at the moment this hotel is in no-mans land, with a lot of empty building sites around it. It is not really on the action of the Las Vegas Strip, nor the Freemont Plaza area. These are within (long) walking distances, but it is easier to catch one of the buses that go around the area on a regular basis. However, in a few yeasr time the future development will make this hotel a better option to stay in.

Secondly is the "Resort Fee" you are slugged with. This is not an optional extra, but a compulsory charge. It covers things like the swimming pool and internet - even if you do not use them. Other hotels make these things free, or an optional extra charge if you decide to use them, or they are included in the price of the room. It would be better if this fee was just included in the room fee.

Stratosphere room
Thirdly, as a non-smoker, the other thing I did not like about the Stratosphere was that to get to the lift to the hotel room I had to walk through the casino, which allows smoking. There is no way of escaping the cigarette smoke as you go to your room. I know that other Hotels and Resorts allow smoking in Las Vegas, but it would be a pleasure to stay in a totally non-smoking environment. A few years ago in Australia smoking was banned in pubs, clubs and casinos. It has taken a few years to get used to, but patronage has now risen. Maybe it is time for Las Vegas to make a bold step forwardand ban smoking in all public areas!

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Happy St Patricks Day!

"May your thoughts be as glad as the shamrocks,
May your heart be as light as a song,
May each day bring you bright, happy hours,
That stay with you all the year long."
~Irish Blessing

Monday, 17 March 2014

V - The Ultimate Variety Show

V Theatre
V - The Ultimate Variety Show has been voted the Number 1 show in Las Vegas. After attending this evening’s performance with my daughter Sarah I can see why.

Each show features an incredible cast of performers each with a different style of act. The show I saw had an amazing seven acts which were all amazing.

The show was hosted by The Crazy Gauchos, Stand-up Comedians who had everyone rolling in the aisles with laughter. They present their own style of South American Gaucho , a term used for South American cowboys. Eduardo and Hugo are from Argentina and their routine combins comedy, fast footwork, audience interaction, swinging a "boleadoras", dancing, singing and music.

Melinda and Sarah
Other performers included:

Wally Eastwood - World's Fastest Juggler. He is a multi awarded juggler who combines juggling with humor and audience interaction.

Melinda: “The First Lady of Magic", is a world famous illusionist who has performed on stage and screen. She had a break to raise her family, but her love of performing has brought her back to the stage. I have seen many other magicians perform, and I could guess how they did their tricks. However Melinda Saxe was so good I could not work out how she accomplished her amazing illusions.

The Skating Aratas are a husband and wife Skating Daredevil Duo who spin around at huge speeds on a small platform held together just by a small strap.

Iouri & Gaborare are a unique Hand Balancing act. From a circus background in Russia and the Ukraine, they show strength and poise as they balance on each with an awesome exhibition of teamwork.

Tamara Yerofeeva is a Rhythmic Gymnast who does stunning work with hoops. Tamara is a four time world champion Rhythmic Gymnast, and came 6th in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

Turf was The Contortionist in the show. He combines hip-hop and contorting with the greatest of skill. He has appeared on America’s Got Talent.

The best thing about V - The Ultimate Variety Show was that it is held in a smaller more intimate theatre. All the seats are close to the stage so everyone has a close up view of the performers. This is one show on The Strip that is suiatable for all ages, so is the ideal show to take the family to. The sound, lighting and seating are all good.

There is a performance each night at 7pm and 8.30pm at the V Theatre in the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. There is an opportunity to meet the stars of the show at the conclusion in thge foyer on the way out.

V Theater
3663 Las Vegas Blvd. #360
Las Vegas NV 89109
(702) 260-7200
(866) 932-1818
Tickets: Phone 866-581-8687 or 702-617-5595

Organisers Reveal Best-Ever Early Bird Booth Sign Up For 2014

Close to 700 sqm of this year’s IT&CMA and CTW Asia-Pacific nett exhibition floor space has already been snapped up to date. Bolstered primarily by the show’s best-ever early bird booth sign ups within 3 months after the 2013 event, some 8 CVB/NTO-led destinations have already confirmed their presence there. The list includes first-time exhibitor Ministry of Tourism Cambodia, and returning participants Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO), Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO), Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB), Tourism Promotions Board Philippines, Sabah Tourism Board, Taiwan Convention & Exhibition Association (TCEA), Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) and Tourism New Zealand (TNZ).

KTO’s Seo Bong Sik, Director of Incentive & Exhibition attributes their return to the success they experienced at last year’s event, he remarks, “IT&CMA and CTW Asia-Pacific 2013 was extremely fruitful. We achieved over 220 leads through our business meetings at the event. I believe part of our accomplishments was due to the effectiveness of the organiser’s Pre-Scheduled Appointments (PSA) and Online Diary facilities that allowed us to schedule up to 100% of meetings ahead of the event, as well as the on-site Buyers-Meet-Sellers (BMS) system.” Wanting to capitalise on Korea’s current popularity as a MICE destination, Seo adds, “We attracted 240% more MICE tourists compared to the year before. Being at IT&CMA and CTW Asia-Pacific this year is important for us to leverage on this momentum.”

Quality leads gained at the IT&CMA and CTW Asia-Pacific 2013 that resulted in conversion into real business was the motivating factor for TNZ. Said Mischa Mannix-Opie, Regional Manager, South & South East Asia, “With the excellent results reaped last year, we were able to generate quality business leads and ultimately convert these for New Zealand. Continuing our participation at the show also enables us to expand our relationships with the important corporate and leisure travel trade community in the Asian region.”

For Taiwan, the satisfaction of co-exhibitors was a major driving force for their renewed participation at the show. Jason Yeh, Chairman of TCEA remarked, “Our 2013 co-exhibitors responded positively as they met with quality potential buyers who would be placing orders within a year. Also, winning delegates’ vote at the event with the Stickiest Marketing & Promotion Award for the most memorable marketing campaign last year enhanced Taiwan’s international exposure, especially among the media delegates. These reassuring results encouraged us to return to IT&CMA and CTW Asia-Pacific 2014.”

Host country Thailand led by TCEB will continue their presence at the 2014 event, with the largest destination pavilion, “IT&CMA and CTW Asia-Pacific is one of the most significant MICE and Corporate Travel trade events for Thailand. Our industry has garnered international interest because of the show and the event will remain as a key platform for Thailand to reach its target of 987,000 MICE visitors this year. Last year, we received double the number of leads at the event as compared to 2012, indicating that Thailand as a MICE destination will continue to see growth. Showcasing Bangkok and Thailand’s MICE cities also present an invaluable opportunity for us to create lasting first-hand experiences for the delegates, and invite them to keep coming back to Thailand – Your Global Events Connection.” said Nopparat Maythaveekulchai, President of TCEB.

The success of the 2013 show also resonated with leading corporate exhibitors who are cementing their presence at the event this year. They include Marco Polo Hotels, Minor Hotel Group, Park Hotel Group, Royal Cliff Hotels Group, Sampran Riverside and Swiss Hotels & Resorts.

Pauline Cheung, Group Sales Director of Park Hotel Group, highlighted the importance of IT&CMA and CTW Asia-Pacific for her chain, “This event has been one of our Group’s important events in a year to update existing networks on our offerings, showcase our new products as well as to keep up our business relationships with the trade contacts.”

According to Darren Ng, Managing Director of TTG Asia Media, this stellar early-bird performance has set a new record for the event, and believes that the show’s emphasis on quality has paid off. “The 2013 show was our best IT&CMA and CTW Asia-Pacific to date. We delivered on a high buyer-to-exhibitor ratio, fresh procurement opportunities with new buyers and dynamic and relevant buyer profiles. These early registrations undoubtedly evidence the value of IT&CMA and CTW Asia-Pacific for our exhibitors.”

Exhibitors who are interested to register for IT&CMA and CTW Asia-Pacific 2014 can fill in the registration form here:

For more information, log on to |

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Australia to USA

My Delta Plane
Today was a big day. It was the day I flew from Sydney Australia to Los Angeles USA. To make sure I did not arrive at the airport late and miss the flight I came down to Sydney yesterday by train and stayed the night with good friends in ‎Leichhardt. I woke early and went by bus to Central Station where I boarded the train to go to Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport.

My Delts Plane
I arrived early to check my bags in and get my boarding pass. I was fortunate to be given an exit aisle seat 44h, which would offer more leg room. I went through security with no troubles and browsed the shops inside the terminal. I boarded the plane and found my seat and settled in for the long journey. The plane took some 13 hours to cover the 7,489 miles from one side of the world to the other. The time went quickly, as I watched several movies, slept, and enjoyed the meals served.

The Boeing 777-200LR plane arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport shortly before 7am. We even had to wait briefly in the plane until the airport arrivals staff started work! I was previously warned that it was a long process to get through customs at the Los Angeles Airport. However, I went through quickly with no troubles at all.

Union Station
To travel to my destination that day Las Vegas I needed to travel to Union Station. Several options were available. I could have travelled by taxi, limousine, or private shuttle, or by free coach transfer to a station to take a train. I chose to go by the bus service called FlyAway. This is a 7-day a week service that departs every 30 minutes from the Los Angeles International Airport Terminals with an $8 fee. The advantage of the FlyAway bus service is that it is a non-stop service, so it arrives in downtown Los Angeles at the Union Station quickly travelling along the freeways. This was my first time on US roads, where they drive on the opposite side of the road to what we drive on in Australia. This took quite a bit of getting used to.

Union Station
I arrived at Union Station at 8am, so had plenty of time to explore this historic train station until my Megabus departed at 12.30. It was called Union Station as several different rail companies joined together to build this one common station. Being a Sunday morning, the station was fairly quiet as the normal weekday crowds of office workers were not there.

Freeway overpasses

The Megbus left from the Union Station's Patsaouras Transit. I picked up boarding pass from the ticket stand and noticed that it had the number 1 written on it. I thought that this meant I had 1 bag to place on the bus. However, I found out that all boarding passes had numbers written on them, and people were invited on board in order of these numbers. There were no reserved seats. I chose a front row seat on the top deck of the double decker bus so that I could enjoy the expansive view out the front window. The bus moved quickly
Freeway, desert, snow
along the freeways, passing built up suburbs, snow capped mountains and deserts. I thought I would see lots of highway patrol cars, but I only spotted one police car. There was not much traffic on the freeway to Las Vegas, but being a Sunday afternoon, there was lots of traffic on the other side of the freeway heading back to Los Angeles. At times this was at a standstill and not even moving. It was nice to be a passenger and not drive all the way to Las Vegas.

The Megbus arrived early evening at about 5:30pm at the RTC South Strip Transfer Terminal in Las Vegas Nevada. It was only a short wait to catch the local RTC bus that went down along the Las Vegas Strip to drop people off at the various hotels and resorts. . Rather than buying a single ride ticket, I chose to buy a $8 ticket that could be used as multiple times in the next 24 hours.

My Megabus
I was dropped off outside of my hotel for the next 2 nights, the Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower. After quickly checking in and exploring my room 204 on the 5th floor, I went down and explored the casino sections, and up the lifts to the observation decks at the very top of this 1,149-foot tall Tower. I then ventured out onto the Las Vegas Strip to explore the immediate area. It was then back to my guest room for a restful night sleep after such a long day flying from Australia to the USA.