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Vol. XIV No. 10
Friday March 10 - March 16, 2006

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TRAVEL & TOURISM
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]: 

Macau: Not just a gamblers’ paradise

Tourism not yet affected by political woes

New lease of life for United

Thailand predicts inbound Koreans to rise

Rayavadee owner takes over Tamarind Chiang Mai

Marriott International accepts NACTA’s TravelSellers Code

Selection of THAI president accelerated

Macau: Not just a gamblers’ paradise

Levent Bergkotte
One of many possible short trips to interesting destinations surrounding Thailand is Macau, a former Portuguese colony and, since 1999, a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. Macau is located 60 kilometers southwest of Hong Kong. Thai Air Asia flies three times daily from Bangkok to this tiny island-city. The flight takes three hours and takes you to Macau’s small but modern airport, which opened ten years ago. Previously, the only way of getting there was by boat or helicopter from Hong Kong.
Macau SAR comprises three parts: the Macau peninsula, Taipa Island and Coloane Island. The peninsula is the heart of the city, with banks, government offices and most hotels and casinos, where Taipa is mainly residential and Coloane island is a getaway for the locals during the weekends. The peninsula and Taipa are linked by three impressive bridges which are beautifully illuminated at night, and Taipa is linked with Coloane by a causeway. Around this causeway there is a huge landfill project going on, almost doubling the precious land surface of this former colony. Coloane is the greenest part, and offers beaches and nice views from the top of the territory’s highest mountain.

View of Macau Tower with the entertainment complex at its foot, and one of the bridges linking Macau peninsula with Taipa Island in the background.

Although Macau was handed over to China in 1999, two years after the British gave up Hong Kong, Portuguese is still an official language here, although most residents are native speakers of Cantonese. English is also widely spoken. It is remarkable to see signs in Portuguese in the Far East. The unusual combination of Portuguese architecture, with its cobbled streets, Mediterranean squares and churches, and Chinese temples and shops is fascinating. Macau is also known for its excellent bakeries, a welcome heritage of the Iberian people.
The main tourist venue in Macau is gambling. There are numerous casinos and it is clear that gamblers bring in the most money here. Another major event, which is inevitably linked to big bucks and worldwide attention, is the Grand Prix Formula 3 racing, which is held each year in November. All hotels are fully booked well in advance for this event. The racetrack runs through the city, much like the Formula 1 course in Monaco. The major landmark is the Macau Tower, which is more than 300 meters tall, with an observation deck, sky jump facilities from a height of 233 meters, and an entertainment complex with shops and restaurants at the foot of the tower.
Although taxis and buses are good, inexpensive, and will take you anywhere, another nice way to explore Macau is by renting a car. Instead of a normal car you could go for a Moke (an open jeep) or a Smart with sunroof. Renting a car provides you with much more freedom to get around. The road network is limited but excellent, and although parking in the city might be a bit difficult, most hotels have their own garages for their guests. Rental rates are around 1,800 baht per day for a Smart, depending on the length of the rental.
A visit to Macau can easily be combined with bustling Hong Kong. There are frequent jetfoil services throughout the day; comfortable fast boats which cover the distance in about an hour. The one-way fare from Macau to Hong Kong is approximately 135 Macau patacas, which is 700 baht. The fare for the return trip is higher, at 175 Hong Kong dollars (around 900 baht). If you are in a hurry and don’t mind paying a much higher fare, or want to experience a flight in a helicopter, there is a frequent air shuttle service between the two cities.
Macau is served non-stop from Bangkok by Thai Air Asia. Fares are variable. A return flight leaving on April 1 and coming back on April 5 for example would cost a very reasonable 2,750 baht, including all taxes and fees. Air Asia has special offers on a regular basis. If you have an internet connection, the best way to keep updated is by subscribing to their newsletter. Visit their website www.airasia.com for more information. A second option for a direct flight is with Air Macau, but that airline’s fares are generally much higher.
Of course, you can also visit Macau in combination with Hong Kong, and take the boat or helicopter from the former British crown colony across the Pearl River delta to Macau. Hong Kong dollars are accepted almost everywhere in Macau, but patacas are not accepted in Hong Kong.
Macau is well worth a visit and quite rightly promotes itself with the slogan, “Where the Mediterranean meets the Pacific.” So, why not make Macau the destination for your next short trip?


Tourism not yet affected by political woes

Thailand’s ongoing political tension has not yet affected the country’s tourism since hotel occupations and airplane ticket reservations remain booked at normal levels, according to an industry executive.
Vijit na Ranong, president of the Tourism Industry Council of Thailand, believes that the current political situation has dampened tourism climate in some sections of Bangkok because those sections have become the center of rallies demanding political change.
So far, there have been no cancellations of flights or hotel room reservations by tourists. Still, some government officials have definitely postponed reservations for hotel and seminar rooms following the dissolution of the House Representatives on February 24, he said.
Vijit conceded that hotel room reservations are likely to drop slightly if the political turmoil drags on, since tourists might opt to wait for the situation to ease before traveling to Thailand.
Organizers of international conferences may hesitate to choose Thailand as a venue for meetings since safety is always a top priority.
He said that local tourism would definitely be affected if the political situation escalated into violence and led to riots.
Therefore, Vijit would like concerned officials to give tourists a proper understanding of the current political situation to help ease their concerns.
Nevertheless, Vijit is confident the country’s tourism will grow 10 percent year on year as earlier targeted, with money circulation exceeding 400 billion baht. (TNA)


New lease of life for United

At an intimate gathering with journalists recently, United Airlines Singapore general manager, Laurence Chin, celebrated the carrier’s coming out of Chapter 11 protection a month to the day, and its 20th year of operations in Singapore.
He said, “We’ve negotiated new leases on aircraft and properties, relooked the pension scheme, and we exited Chapter 11 on February 1.” He added that the airline would continue to keep a close watch on costs, but would not let this stand in the way of a new round of product upgrades.
“There’ll be spending to upgrade first and business class products, and to celebrate our 20 years in Singapore, we’ll hold a number of events through the year to give value-added services to the market.”
Chin said a “strategic sales transformation” plan was underway, but added the carrier did not believe air travel had become a “commodity market” whereby no more stock was placed in service. “Our research shows there is still a significant group of people here who are willing to pay for the right services, so we’ll benchmark ourselves against best-in-class sales teams from other industries and won’t just sell on price”. (TTG Asia)


Thailand predicts inbound Koreans to rise

The number of Koreans visiting Thailand has been projected to rise 12 percent to 900,000 this year.
Thailand’s Kasikorn Research Centre estimated the increase would generate an additional 2.5 billion baht (US$634.6 million) in tourism receipts - a 16 percent rise year-on-year. Some 800,000 Koreans visited Thailand last year.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand reported that in the first half of 2005, the Korean market was the Kingdom’s fourth biggest behind Malaysia, Japan and Singapore. (TTG Asiaa)


Rayavadee owner takes over Tamarind Chiang Mai

The Premier Group of Companies, which owns and operates Rayavadee Resort in Krabi, has taken over Tamarind Village, a boutique property in Chiang Mai.
Tamarind was bought by Raya Heritage, a Premier subsidiary, in May last year.
The 40-key hotel has been renovated in stages since late last year. There are three new room categories - 26 Lanna rooms, 12 Lanna Deluxe rooms, one Tamarind Suite and one Tamarind Deluxe Suite - and a new spa and library.
Its restaurant will be refurbished. It has also enhanced its wine list from 10 labels to 40.
The hotel’s Chief Operating Officer, Paul van Frank, said the renovation was scheduled for completion in October, and following which, the room rates would increase by 20 percent.
He said the hotel aimed to attract more high-end FIT travelers. To achieve that, it has added into its personalized services a concierge and a private Chiang Mai Home Host excursion. (TTG Asia)


Marriott International accepts NACTA’s TravelSellers Code

Starting March 1, members of the National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents (NACTA) who possess a TravelSellers Identification Code will be eligible to register their agency for a trial program to receive commissions on Marriott brands as long as they have taken and passed the Marriott Hotel Excellence Program, among other criteria.
This program will pay commissions to qualified NACTA members through to Dec 31, 2006.
NACTA members may register for this trial program by going to the members-only pages of NACTA’s website at www.nacta.com. All registrations must be made through NACTA and not directly with Marriott International.
Besides providing their agency and membership information, NACTA members must have the following: TravelSellers Numeric Code; the carrier, policy number and coverage amount of the agency’s Errors & Omission Insurance; and the HSS Code (Hotel Sales Specialist). (TTG Asia)


Selection of THAI president accelerated

Thai Airways International Public Company Limited (THAI) is accelerating selecting a new president so that the company’s top management will be in office by the time Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi Airport is opened for commercial use later this year.
Deputy Transport Minister Phumtham Wechayachai Phumtham, who oversees the national flag carrier, said that qualifications of the selected candidate would have to meet the Ministry of Transport’s criteria.
They include being competent and having experience in successful management of a multi-billion-baht business, and being capable of strengthening and uniting organizational organs in order to drive the company forward with competitiveness and solidarity, he noted.
“There are urgent tasks waiting for the new THAI president, including improvements of internal management, customers services and passenger aircraft to meet world-classed standards.
The company’s selection process for its new president to replace Kanok Abhiradee has already been extended once before.
Kanok’s term will officially end soon, though he has already been ‘shelved’ with the appointment of Somchainuk Engtrakul, a THAI board member, as the acting president since last year.
“Once the qualified candidate is selected, we’ll announce it to the public,” the minister told journalists.
Meanwhile, Caretaker Transport Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisal confirmed that the new Suvarnabhumi International Airport would be open for commercial purposes in late June as scheduled, despite any political change, with the new government to be formed after the snap election following the dissolution of the House of Representatives on February 24.
The minister said that the construction of the new airport is now 99 percent completed, and that overall decorations would soon be finalized.
He conceded, however, that the new airport’s catering services would be fully in place by September - three months after the opening of the airport - due to a delay in repair works of THAI’s catering building after it was damaged by a fire earlier this year.
“During the three-month period, the airport’s catering services will be served by THAI’s old catering facility at the Don Muang Airport,” he noted.
For the airport-link project, which includes the development of a mass rapid transit system connecting the new airport with Bangkok’s downtown areas, Pongsak said the project is expected to be completed over the next two years. (TNA)


 


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