Now that the travel world has truly shaken off the recession, hoteliers are no longer playing it safe. In 2015, big-name brands are branching out from what they do so famously: Mandarin Oriental, known for its outstanding city hotels, is opening a resort just outside Marrakech, while Aman Resorts, whose signature is peaceful sanctuaries in remote places, is coming to Tokyo.
The indies are shaking things up, too, as with a pair of former &Beyond executives opening their own private camp in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, and with Alan Faena, who is exporting his audacious namesake hotel in Buenos Aires to Miami. For travelers, the new luxury frontiers are in South America, which is safer than ever, easily reached and ideal for soft adventure: Hacienda Bambusa is bringing elegance to Colombia’s Coffee Triangle, and AlexVik is expanding his empire to Chile. Here’s what to check out when you check in in 2015.
Aman junkies don’t ever need to be sold on the brand, but the opening of the first urban hotel promises to offer the faithful – and Aman virgins – a new take on that signature style. Atop a new tower in the posh Ginza district, the Aman Tokyo, which opened in December, has 360 views over the megalopolis and Mount Fuji, a 100-foot-high lobby atrium modeled on a paper lantern, traditional rock gardens and 84 of the largest rooms and suites in the city (starting at more than 700 square feet). There’s also a two-story spa, a 1,200-bottle wine cellar and a private-label sake.
FAenA hoTel, miAmi BeAch
Ten years ago, when Argentinean fashion designer-turned-real-estate-developer Alan Faena opened his namesake hotel in abandoned
Buenos Aires docklands, his creative risks more than paid off – the Faena District is now the city’s most valuable real estate. In September 2015, that cheeky spirit is migrating north, with the opening of a new hotel in what was once the historic Saxony. Faena enlisted the masters of cinematic whimsy Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin to design the 169 rooms and suites, private screening room, theater for live cabaret shows and spa. And in his United States’ debut, much-lauded Argentinean grill master Francis Mallmann is consulting on the restaurant.
SiX SenSeS doUro VAlley, PorTUGAl
Its fans may not be quite as rabid as Aman’s, but Six Senses has developed a cult following among guests who admire its brand of eco-friendly bare foot (high) luxury in far-flung locations. Opening in mid-2015, the Douro Valley hideaway will finally bring Six Senses’ sensibility beyond Asia.
Fitted into a 19th-century manor house in the oldest wine-producing region in the world, the resort has 57 rooms, suites and villas, an extensive
spa with locally inspired grape-and olivebased treatments, a large yoga pavilion and the de rigueur local-seasonal-organic restaurant menu, much of it grown on-site, served in the restaurant and at “pop-up” tables set by the Douro River.
BAhiA Vik, UrUGUAy, And ViÑA Vik, millAhUe, chile
With his first small luxury hotels in Uruguay, billionaire entrepreneur/art collector Alex Vik put the boho beach town of José Ignacio on the map. As with Vik’s earlier resorts, his much-anticipated Bahia Vik, which opened in January, has a focus on art and architecture throughout the 11 uniquely designed bungalows (most have two or three bedrooms) and the 10 suites in the main building. And November saw the debut of Viña Vik Millahue in Chile’s Alpaca wine valley. The Frank Gehry- and Richard Serra-inspired retreat overlooks 11,000 acres of vineyards with the Andes rising in the distance, and offers tastings of Vik’s world-class wines and vinotherapy treatments in the spa.
It’s the best of both worlds in the Red City: all the services of a leading international luxury brand but in an intimate environment with only 54 private-walled villas (with pools, sundecks and alfresco dining areas) and seven suites (some with rooftop plunge pools), and the olive-grove exoticism of the desert Palmeraie region combined with proximity to the historic medina. When it opens in the first quarter of 2015, Mandarin Oriental’s Moroccan outpost – the only resort in its current portfolio – will have the brand’s signature spa, a traditional hammam, lush gardens and five restaurants and bars serving Moroccan and international fare.
hAciendA BAmBUSA, colomBiA
High-end operators like Blue Parallel, Butterfield & Robinson and Absolute Travel are expanding their Colombia offerings for good reason: The charismatic country is finally getting its due, thanks to a stable government, improved safety, investment in luxury travel and convenient JetBlue flights from New York to Cartagena. And there’s now good reason to go beyond the colonial fantasyland of Cartagena into the “real” Colombia with the reopening in December of Hacienda Bambusa, an eight-room hotel overlooking a working hacienda with 500 acres of cacao, plantains, tangerines and pineapples, now managed by a Relais & Châteaux vet. Long a favorite of in-the-know travelers, it’s an ideal base for visiting local coffee growers, hiking in Valle de Cocora National Park and touring nearby rural villages.
Bad Times For Billionaire Branson–Staff At Virgin Atlantic Asked To Take Unpaid Leave As Coronavirus Cripples Air Travel
Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has been criticized by a U.K. politician for airline Virgin Atlantic’s request on Monday for staff to take eight weeks unpaid leave during the coronavirus pandemic.
Labour MP Kate Osborne, the second U.K. politician to be diagnosed with coronavirus, described Virgin Atlantic’s decision as “an absolute disgrace” on Twitter.
Author Liam Young tweeted, “Virgin Atlantic have 8,500 employees and Branson has asked them to take 8 weeks unpaid leave. It would cost £4.2 million to pay all of these employees £500 a week to cover this leave. In total that’s a cost of £34 million for 8 weeks.”
The implication appears to be that billionaire Richard Branson, whose net worth Forbes estimates $3.8 billion, could afford to cover this cost.
Virgin Atlantic confirmed in a statement Monday that it plans to reduce its schedule and prioritize routes based on customer demand. The airline predicts an 80% reduction in flights per day, and adds, “As a direct consequence we will be parking approximately 75% of our fleet by 26 March and at points in April will go up to 85%.”
Virgin Atlantic describes the changes as “drastic measures” put in place to “ensure cash is preserved, costs are controlled, and the future of the airline is safeguarded.”
Adding, “Staff will be asked to take eight weeks unpaid leave over the next three months, with the cost spread over six months’ salary, to drastically reduce costs without job losses.” The airline confirms its decision has received the support of unions BALPA and UNITE in agreeing to the unpaid leave.
A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: “The aviation industry is facing unprecedented pressure. We are appealing to the [U.K] government for clear, decisive and unwavering support. Our industry needs emergency credit facilities to a value of £5-7.5 billion, to bolster confidence and to prevent credit card processors from withholding customer payments.”
Bad Times For Branson
Branson’s business empire has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 14 the Virgin Voyages cruise ship operation decided to postpone the launch of its new Scarlet Lady cruise line. “The current global health crisis is understandably making many people rethink upcoming travel plans,” Virgin Voyages confirmed in a statement.
On March 5, British airline Flybe — which is part owned by Virgin Atlantic— collapsed after it succumbed to its financial woes and weakened demand because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Following the announcement of Flybe’s collapse, Virgin Atlantic said: “Sadly, despite the efforts of all involved to turn the airline around, not least the people of Flybe, the impact of Covid-19 on Flybe’s trading means that the consortium can no longer commit to continued financial support.”
Flybe, which once was Europe’s largest independent regional carrier, narrowly escaped collapse in January, after being bought by Cyrus Capital, Virgin Atlantic and Stobart last year.
Virgin Galactic, Branson’s publicly traded space tourism arm, has seen its shares slump since its mid February high of $37.26 on the NYSE. Having lost another 10% of value as of 4:30 pm U.K. time on Monday, Virgin Galactic is priced at $13.30 and falling. Branson’s Virgin Investment Limited owns 47% of Virgin Galactic through an investment entity, Vieco.
Emerging Economies, But Weaker Passports
Africa dominates the bottom of the rung in the 2020 Henley Passport Index. A majority of the continent’s passport-holders don’t have the luxury of visa-free travel around the world.
The African Union may be gearing for a common African passport, but for now, it seems like most African passports don’t have what it takes to get to other parts of the world.
In the recently-released Henley Passport Index, which measures all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa, only two African countries –Seychelles and Mauritius — are in the top 50.
The rest of the continent dominates the bottom quarter of the rankings with weaker passports than most, pointing to difficult and intensive visa processes in most cases.
Africa’s biggest economy and one of its most influential, Nigeria, is at the end of the travel freedom spectrum, at a pitiful number 95 with Djibouti. Nigeria’s population of 200 million can only travel to 46 countries without obtaining a visa in advance.
Even passport-holders from Samoa and Serbia have a better chance of traveling to most places in the world, visa-free, than those in South Africa, the African continent’s second biggest economy.
Ranked 56, the number of global destinations South African passport-holders can travel to is 100.
It is followed by its southern African neighbor, Botswana, ranking at 62 with a score of 84.
Seychelles, the archipelago country in the Indian Ocean, is Africa’s top-ranking African passport in this regard, at 29 with access to 151 destinations worldwide.
It is quickly followed by Mauritius which is at 32 with a score of 146 destinations passport-holders of this country can visit.
The lowest-ranking African country is Somalia at 104. Passport-holders from this tiny nation in the Horn of Africa can only visit 32 countries without a pre-departure visa
Globally, Asia dominates the list. For the third consecutive year, Japan has secured the top spot on the index — which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 191. Singapore holds on to its second place position with a score of 190.
Executive Travel: Slikour’s Mexico
The South African hip-hop artist and entrepreneur experienced a hurricane and a seismic spiritual shift in the city of Cancun.
It has been a journey, a lot to learn and a lot learned,” says Siyabonga Metane, popularly known on South African hip-hop stages as ‘Slikour’.
The learnings have been in music and business, but the journeys have been beyond both.
Just two years post South Africa’s democratic elections in 1994, Slikour was part of a rap group named Skwatta Kamp, formed on the streets of the country’s Gauteng province, with the aim of commercializing the local hip-hop scene.
The group consisted of seven members and most of them went on to release solo albums. Slikour released two, Ventilation Mix Tape Vol.1 and 2, in 2005 and 2007. Long before that, in 2002, Slikour had turned entrepreneur, co-founding Buttabing Entertainment, a record label and artist management organization.
Today, he is also the founder of SlikourOnLife, a prominent urban culture online publication that he started in 2014 catering to music lovers.
Returning to the word ‘journey’, it especially sparks memories of a trip he undertook in 2011 to Cancun, a Mexican city on the Yucatán Peninsula bordering the Caribbean Sea, known for its beaches, resorts and nightlife. Slikour was there for a television shoot as part of a group. The trip still stands out in his mind.
He was not blown away by the city initially, but as he visited some of Cancun’s tourism attractions, he began to change his perception.
Ultimately, it proved to be what he calls an amazing rendezvous.
“The people were pretty much speaking Spanish,” he chuckles, recalling being immersed in the local culture.
READ MORE | Executive Travel: Mpho Popps’ Ghana
“There are a lot of laborers there and the people are beautiful and accommodating, but we never really spoke or interacted with the community.”
Slikour decided to savor the city’s famed nightlife instead and see for himself what all the hype was about.
It all began and ended with tequila, a distilled alcoholic drink and one of Mexico’s most famous exports, made of the blue agave plant from the city of Tequila in Mexico.
“Everything you do there is done with tequila. I don’t drink alcohol, but I had to accept and apply myself because there, they don’t use tomato sauce, they use tequila; I literally had to get into the tequila swag; it’s everything there. Tequila started there,” Slikour says.
Mexico is known for its recurring hurricanes too, which Slikour also got a taste of while there.
“After a few days of getting there, we were warned of a hurricane, and asked to close our doors and windows, and because these things happen regularly, there’s a drill to follow. The hurricane wasn’t a major one but I was excited because I wanted to see it. I had to look through the window,” he says.
The hurricanes are so frequent in Mexico that he likens the precautions taken to lighting a candle during South Africa’s frequent power cuts.
Despite this exhilarating encounter with nature, the real earth-shaking experience for him, however, happened deep inside a cave in the city of Cancun – and also deep inside him.
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“My spiritual [epiphany] was when I went into those caves. You go in there with your self-assurance, claiming you understand everything. Thereon, they tell you where everything comes from and all of a sudden, you become this very small thing in this big ecosystem. It just shows how everything affects everything,” Slikour says.
The tour guides explained how everything inside the cave came from rain, elaborating how it was connected to the core of the earth; which is where they were at the time.
Slikour was in Cancun for two weeks, and also visited the pyramids.
“The Mexicans didn’t have all the mathematics that we have now but the pyramids were built to perfection. It just showed you how forward-thinking they were and how behind we are in as much as we think we are forward; we just have technology. We don’t think the way historic societies used to think,” says Slikour, in deep reflection.
Mexico is a place he would return to, anyday, in a heartbeat.
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