From Ellen Boonstra, Asia correspondent >>

THE Kuda Villingili Resort Maldives, a much-anticipated luxury island retreat in the Maldivian archipelago, opened its doors on June 6. It is within paddling distance of the world-renowned ‘Chickens’ surf break.

A remarkable five-star property located in the North Male Atoll, Kuda Villingili is the Maldives redefined: a unique, experience-driven concept, home to an impressive line-up of gourmet dining options, an idyllic beachfront spa, and an azure, spacious 150m pool, encircled by stylish sunbeds, cabanas and bars. 

Kuda Villingili Resort is the first property in the Maldives for Indian hospitality conglomerate MFAR. The group has, since its inception, demonstrated innovation and commitment, with a serious commitment to corporate social corporate responsibility (CSR).

Kuda Villingili Resort is pioneering a microfinancing program that supports a neighbouring island by purchasing all of the local people’s shrimp and lobster produce. The resort will also offer loans, training in sustainable and efficient farming and healthcare.

Providing prime access to one of the world’s top 10 surfing spots – known as Chickens – as well as a host of daily activities and nightly entertainment such as lobster and Champagne nights and sunset DJ sessions, Kuda Villingili Resort Maldives offers guests the opportunity to reconnect after a year of isolation, as well as space for privacy, luxury and rest.

GASTRONOMY ACCENT 

The diversity of cultural expression is celebrated throughout the resort’s gourmet offerings.

With views of the idyllic beachfront, the resort’s signature dining establishment – The Restaurant – serves the freshest, handcrafted food for breakfast and offers three menus at dinner: Fire, Earth and Ocean. 

Inspired by the traditional American Steak House experience, Fire explores the art of grilling meats to perfection. Earth is an Asian-inspired concept that celebrates organic ingredients to enhance classic dishes like noodles and dim sum creations, and Ocean is a fine-dining experience championing seafood specialties, prepared with a European sensibility.

Relaxed, flavoursome and social, The Hawkers is an upscale three-stall street food market that sits poolside and serves up soulful, sharing-style options. The open kitchen dishes up Indian-Arabic inspired flame-grilled kebabs, charcoaled tandoor, and mouth-watering shawarma, along with Thai-Japanese delicacies such as robatayaki grill and sushi, and Italian-Mediterranean favourites like savoury wood-fired pizza.

A South American take on the classic lunch beach menu is available at The Beach Club, together with daily live DJ sets and an extended list of refreshing frozen cocktails and rosé wines. The resort’s two bars, the Main Bar and the Poolside bar, both offer classic cocktails, mocktails and hand-crafted beers.

And overlooking the lagoon, the resort’s cosy Cigar Lounge offers the finest international whiskies and cognacs and a wide selection of premium cigars in a warm, sophisticated and sumptuously leather-decorated ambience.

WELLNESS & SPORTS 

Featuring oversized stone baths, organic and plant-based products by Voya, the spa at Kuda Villingili is rooted in self-love, self-discovery and wellness.

Boasting eight self-contained oceanfront spa villas, each promises a holistic journey to reclaim self-connection, self-care and balance through an array of therapeutic and mindful practices.

Restorative leisure pursuits include an elevated yoga pavilion, Technogym and a recreation centre with table tennis, billiards, karaoke and table games. There are two state-of-the-art tennis courts, beach volleyball and island excursions that range from surfing, scuba and stargazing to wildlife encounters, sandbank dining and big game fishing.   

DESIGN & ACCOMMODATION 

Conceived with nature in mind by the Maldivian architectural firm GX Associates, in collaboration with the Singapore-based interior design company URBNarc, the resort boasts 95 luxury villas – 36 overwater and 59 beachside.

All are inspired by the sprawling nature of the Maldives and offer panoramic views of the pristine ocean, allowing for the natural sounds of the sea to awaken the senses.

The resort’s interiors authentically reflect the natural beauty that surrounds the island.

Traditional Maldivian art pieces and textiles are dotted throughout, and the expert use of natural materials enhance the harmony between water, light and wind. Inspired by the ocean and local fauna, interiors feature custom, eco-friendly furniture and fittings (including carpets manufactured from recycled plastic bottles).

This mixed-use resort development also offers a variety of accommodation types to meet the needs of all – groups, couples, solo travellers and families. 

ACTIVITIES GALORE 

Guests are invited to snorkel amidst the majestic manta rays, reef sharks, hundreds of species of tropical fish and coral reefs and at sundown, they will be surrounded by the areas’ unique fluorescent marine life.

Kayaking, wakeboarding, jet skiing, windsurfing and surfing the majestic waves at nearby Chickens break, one of the world’s top 10 surfing spots, is also on offer. Back on land, sushi masterclasses, mixology courses, morning yoga sessions, fun-filled cardio lessons and tennis tournaments await – and they’re included in the price of the villa. 

Kuda Villingili’s littlest guests will be spoilt for choice. The resort’s experienced team will organise fun filled activities including crab discovery, treasure hunts, creative workshops and sandcastle competitions, all designed to ensure that a child’s experience on the island is as unforgettable as their parents’. 

André Kretschmann, general manager of Kuda Villingili Resort Maldives said, “I look forward to welcoming guests in this magic and unspoiled island.

“Kuda Villingili represents years of ingenious planning and successful collaborations with famous hoteliers and designers, not to offer yet another luxury resort but a place where time and space are redefined. The young resort team and I are here to help guests create ever-lasting memories.”  

www.kudavillingili.com

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HILTON Surfers Paradise won top honours twice at the 20th annual Queensland Hotels Association (QHA) Awards for Excellence staged last week at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre – while also ranking as a finalist in another three award categories.

The iconic Gold Coast hotel took out the major award for Best Redeveloped Hotel Accommodation and Hilton Surfers Paradise duty manager, Lucas Evans was awarded the prestigious Hotel Industry Rising Star Award for 2021. 

The Hilton and its team were also finalists for Best Hotel Bar-Accommodation, Front of House Employee of the Year and Employee Excellence in Service. 

The win for Best Hotel Redevelopment was supported by the hotel’s $9million makeover in 2020 which saw the addition of nine new guest rooms and suites, the unveiling of a new full-service executive lounge, expansion of conference facilities, a reinvented lobby complete with a new cocktail bar, all day dining area and exhibition gallery, the implementation of Digital Key for guest rooms and digital ordering poolside, in-room and within the outlets.

Hilton Surfers Paradise general manager, Fiona Pryde said her team was “very fortunate” that despite a challenging 2020 the hotel’s owner continued in the property’s redevelopment.

“Renovating the entire ground floor during the COVID-19 pandemic created a sense of optimism within the team during challenging times,” Ms Pryde said. “It also gave the hotel something new and exciting for our loyal guests to experience once interstate travel resumed.”

Competing against five other outstanding finalists, Hilton Surfers Paradise duty manager Lucas Evans took home the Hotel Industry Rising Star Award, “an incredible testament to his bright future in hospitality” according to Ms Pryde. Having worked his way up from a concierge intern in 2017, Mr Evans has big dreams of one day becoming a general manager of a Hilton hotel.

“The QHA Awards for Excellence is acclaimed for shining a spotlight on the hotel industry and we are grateful to be recognised among the many talented people and great hotels that make up the outstanding and resilient Queensland hotel industry,” Ms Pryde said. 

She said the hotel was also proud to be recognised as a finalist for Best Hotel Bar-Accommodation after introducing the brand new bar and eatery during the major refurbishments, Ms Margot’s Bar and Eats. The new bar and eatery brings the lobby to life with a variety of informal spaces to meet and eat over a coffee or curated cocktails.

Ms Pryde said the bar is proudly named after regular Ms Margot, who has been visiting daily for over a decade for her morning coffee and breakfast.

“We chose to name the bar after our beloved Ms Margot who keeps coming back, for her daily dose of the famous Hilton hospitality we provide,” she said.

“We wanted to create a beautiful space where guests and locals will keep coming back to, just like Ms Margot, to eat, drink and make connections.”

Lindee Brophy, Hilton Surfers Paradise’s guest service agent was recognised as one of three finalists for the Front of House Employee of The Year award for the outstanding service she delivers and HR assistant manager Lisa Galway was also recognised as one of five finalists for the Employee Excellence in Service. Ms Galway will be celebrating her 17th year of service with Hilton in December 2021.

www.hiltonsurfersparadise.com.au

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THE Accommodation Association today welcomed the Federal Government’s temporary COVID disaster payment and added a call to loosen the eligibility criteria so that all workers severely impacted by lockdowns are supported.

The eligibility requirements for the financial support weekly payment currently include requirements that a person must be in a declared Commonwealth hotspot and that the lockdown has lasted for more than a week.

Under this approach, only people in Greater Melbourne currently qualify with workers in the rest of the state who are also impacted by the lockdown ineligible, according to Accommodation Association CEO Dean Long. 

The Accommodation Association alongside other industry bodies continues to engage with State and Federal Government to bring about a proportionate business support package for the sector, he said.

“We welcome the announcement of the emergency funding for our teams that have been stood down due to the outbreak and subsequent lock down,”
Mr Long said.

“These are important payments to hospitality, accommodation and hotel workers who have borne the brunt of the health response but, while this is a support for Greater Melbourne, it does exclude workers in regional Victoria who will continue to be highly impacted by the travel restrictions.

"These workers are just as vulnerable and deserving of support and we ask the Federal Government to consider widening the net to help them as well. We look forward to seeing the outcome from today’s National Cabinet in terms of additional business support.”

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FCM, one of the world’s largest travel management companies, is planning for a significant rebound in its global corporate travel business by year-end, possibly to about 50 percent of its pre-COVD levels.

FCM is projecting business activity steadily increasing and is counting on stronger returns on the multi-million dollar investments the Flight Centre-owned brand has made in its offerings during the pandemic.

The FCM business, which operates in more than 95 countries, is tracking sales that will continue to increase globally and is targeting 50 percent of pre-COVID levels by the end of the year. With vaccination programmes well underway in key markets, and gaining momentum globally, and as consumer confidence increases, the corporate business’s profitability remains on track to return late in 2021, as the company has previously forecast.

At the end of April, Flight Centre Travel Group’s corporate business, of which FCM is the flagship multinational focused division, was trading at 29 percent of prior year levels globally, but had developed a strong organic growth profile, fuelled by a combination of high customer retention rates and record new account wins during the pandemic. 

Recent wins have included large and high-profile accounts, such as Procter & Gamble and Atos.

FCM global managing director Marcus Eklund said: “Based on early signs that vaccines are effective in preventing symptomatic infection, and with healthy vaccine rollout rates in key markets such as the Australia, New Zealand, the US and UK, we expect health risks to reduce. 

“In the absence of disruptions such as new strains, this should lead to an easing of government-imposed restrictions on domestic and international travel, and a partial rebound of the global business travel market by year end.

“Based on our experiences, travel immediately rises by 20-30 percent when restrictions are relaxed. A healthier rebound will occur if international borders remain open.”

FCM’s diverse customer base is playing a key role in future growth, he said, with recent focus groups indicating high levels of pent-up demand.  

“The mining, construction, pharma, energy and resources, FMCG manufacturing industries and their associated supply chains, together with governments and other growth companies, were responsible for most business travel activity during 2020,” Mr Eklund said.

“They will also drive early growth in travel activity this year, as their C-suite, customer-facing and sales executives recommence their traditional customer and team engagement.

“Confidence in business travel will fundamentally change as a result of consolidation and structural changes in the market. It is essential for the corporate travel industry to be highly adaptable to rapid change.

“It must also offer a greater number of services in health, safety and customer communication, and expedite their delivery, to remain relevant in this environment. These are the areas we have focussed on and invested heavily in for the benefit of our customers during the pandemic and during the recovery phase.”

Global research has revealed the emergence of a new hybrid working model, Mr Eklund said, with more than half of all employees expected to work from home several days a month.[1]

As a result, Mr Eklund expected some pre-pandemic travel activity would shift to virtual working models,  leading to further consolidation in the corporate travel industry, as organisations increasingly seek travel management providers that are secure and demonstrate a strong duty of care.

FCM is in a strong position to take advantage of a smaller industry and evolving business and travel environment, he said.

“Our investment ensures we can boost the confidence of businesses resuming travel, thereby servicing a greater volume of customers and increasing market share. In this fast-changing, unpredictable world, health and safety will remain the single biggest priority.

“Our FCM team is monitoring the changing risk and regulatory environments daily and providing solutions within 24 hours. Now helped by our new AI capabilities, we can offer 24/7 travel monitoring, live information updates and instant communication with travel managers and travellers,” Mr Eklund said.

fcmtravel.com

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[1] Cisco Webex, October 2020: The Rise of the Hybrid Workplace: A Global Survey of Executives, Employee Experience Experts, and Knowledge Workers cisco.com/c/dam/en/us/products/collateral/collaboration-endpoints/global-workforce-survey.pdf?ccid=cc001191&oid=anrco023191.

THE Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) has welcomed the opening of the Trans-Tasman travel corridor from April 19, announced today by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern.

AFTA chairman Tom Manwaring said the ability to travel between Australia and New Zealand without quarantining was a much-needed confidence boost for the travel industry, but warned of the need for "a consistent approach to keeping the corridor open".

“The opening of the Trans-Tasman travel corridor from April 19 is a greatly needed boost to consumer confidence in both markets and many of our members are seeing increased interest in booking New Zealand, albeit primarily to visit friends and family," Mr Manwarrng said. 

“It’s not a massive increase in business and our sector still desperately needs support but it is a much needed step in the right direction.

“However, we urge both the Australian and the New Zealand governments to do all they can to ensure now the corridor is open that it stays open. This is important both in terms of consumer confidence in booking travel and from a workload perspective for travel agents who are still working hard on repatriating the outstanding $4 billion still owed to Australians by airlines, hotels and tour operators on COVID-impacted travel and managing re-bookings and cancellations as a result of state restrictions.”

ATEC ALSO BACKS MOVE

The Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) has also welcomed the announcement of a travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand to start in the middle of April.

ATEC said the initiative would "help to re-establish some of Australia’s long term travel relationships and marks the first step in reopening our export tourism industry to international visitors".

“Our industry will be very happy to hear that a travel bubble has been agreed between the Australian and New Zealand governments which will see one of our most significant markets back online,” ATEC managing director Peter Shelley said. “Australian tourism businesses, like those across the world, have suffered severely with the closure of international borders and this marks an initial step towards re-establishing our $45 billion annual export industry.

“Thousands of tourism businesses across the country have suffered a severe drop in their income with the closure of international borders and many are simply holding on for announcements like this." 
 
Mr Shelley said a recent ATEC survey of the export industry showed Australian inbound tour operators (ITOs) were suffering the most under the international border closures with 80 percent operating with less than 10 percent of their pre-COVID revenue.

“While our tourism product supplier members are doing their best to turn to the domestic market and are working hard to make ends meet, ITOs are only staying afloat with the help of the Federal Government's travel agent grants program now that the JobKeeper subsidy has ended.

“Without the re-opening of borders or the certainty provided by ongoing government support, a large number of ITOs will be out of business within months, taking with them a significant pipeline of forward bookings made by international travellers and millions of dollar’s in revenue.

“ITO’s are the businesses which sell Australian tourism product across the world and while they are small in number, they deliver a huge amount of business across the country, especially to regional areas which have developed strong destination appeal for international visitors.

“The reopening of international borders will be wholeheartedly welcomed across the industry and particularly by those businesses whose entire future rests on international visitation.”

www.afta.com.au

www.atec.net.au

 

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THE Victorian Government’s new support packages of up to $25,000 for business events incentives in Melbourne, has the support of the Accommodation Association.

The Association said the program would provide “a desperately needed bookings boost for struggling CBD hotels and accommodation providers”.

With the corporate travel market still crippled by COVID, the Accommodation Association said the incentives would ignite business traveller confidence in choosing Melbourne for accommodation and events. 

“Forward bookings for Victorian accommodation in the second half of the year are still at 2020 levels and event investment is currently extremely prudent, so we welcome this much needed support from the state government,” Accommodation Association CEO Dean Long said.

“With consumer confidence at critically low levels due to ongoing border shutdowns, more business events in Melbourne will have a positive impact on hotel and motel occupancy in the CBD through kick starting corporate travel spending which means more overnight stays with Victorian accommodation providers.

“As the Melbourne corporate travel market begins to recover, the wider Victorian market will also enjoy flow on benefits from heightened travel and hospitality spending which will support the state’s economic recovery,” Mr Long said.

“Our Melbourne hotels and motels have endured an incredibly tough time and are looking forward to increased interest from corporate travellers and business events clients as they take advantage of this program.”

According to the Accommodation Association, nearly 40 percent of all visitors to Melbourne are corporate travellers and providing reason to travel beyond reconnecting is critical for the accommodation sector.

Mr Long said supporting business events would kick start the tourism industry in Victoria, as events drive overnight visitation and are critical to rebuilding the domestic corporate travel market which the state’s hotels and motels rely on.
Applications are open until June 30, 2021 for new event bookings held in Melbourne through to December 2022.

www.aaoa.com.au

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BRINGING BUSINESS events back to Brisbane is the focus of a funding package announced this week by Brisbane Economic Development Agency (Brisbane EDA).

Brisbane EDA general manager of tourism, business and major events, Juliet Alabaster said providing support to attract more business events back to the city was key for the economic recovery of the events industry. Applications are now open, she said.

“As part of our wider ‘Brisbane. Even Better with You’ campaign, we are offering event planners and businesses a cash incentive to make it easier for them to choose Brisbane for their next face-to-face conference or incentive event,” Ms Alabaster said. 

“This funding can be used to either deliver an enhanced delegate experience through an upgraded event program, or contribute to reducing the overall cost of their event as some welcome budget relief.”

Ms Alabaster encouraged event planners to reach out, get free advice, and find out more about the exceptional experience Brisbane can give delegates.

“Brisbane is a fantastic city, with our warm weather, vibrant open-air restaurants, world-class venues and cultural attractions and outstanding hotels to choose from,” Ms Alabaster said.

“We know our local industry has experienced incredibly challenging conditions the past year and we want to provide a helping hand to encourage more Brisbane business events bookings -- to boost our local economy and support our local businesses, accommodation providers and our service industry.

“We want to instil confidence in event planners that Brisbane is ready to host their next event, and they can expect our signature warm welcome when they do.”

The package includes funding of $50 per person for eligible business events held between March 2021 and December 2022 and must be booked at a Brisbane venue by June 30, 2021.

Apply at choosebrisbane.com.au/conventions.

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