Developments Brighten the East
By Maria Lisella
When insiders often made predictions and projections about U.S. travel to Europe, the old saying was “Wherever travel goes in the U.K., goes Europe.” But with a weak dollar against a strong Euro, England and the U.K. may no longer be a barometer to measure what the shoulder and high seasons may carry over the Atlantic.
In a recent informal member survey conducted by the U.S. Tour Operators Association more than 50% of companies serving Europe and Great Britain said their bookings to these areas have dropped, some by as much as 20% in the past year. And nearly the same percent expected 2008 bookings to be equally affected.
In USTOA surveys of favorite destinations, Italy looms large and lovely for the fifth consecutive year in a row, but right behind that classical destination Eastern Europe—including Bulgaria and the Czech Republic—placed first as the hottest up-and-coming area for tours and packages, followed closely by South America and Asia, respectively.For hottest up-and-coming country Croatia came in first (with China close behind). In spite of rising costs even in this region, travel agents familiar with the various countries that comprise this region also know that values can still be had here without sacrificing either service or quality.
“Many of our members expect the trend toward a declining dollar to favor inclusive products that bundle more features into a single price. River cruising, which has been on the rise in Europe, will become even more appealing because the price includes meals and sightseeing,” says Bob Whitley, USTOA president.
At the same time, the outlook for former Eastern European countries, now more often referred to as Central European is much sweeter and promising.
The picturesque small country of Bulgaria has existed for more than 13 centuries in Europe, linking East and West. Situated in southeastern Europe, Bulgaria occupies the northeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula and boasts no les than nine UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Rila Monastery and the Ivanovo Rock Churches are among them. The mountain resort of Pamporovo is one of the southernmost skiing resorts in Europe. Located in the magnificent pine forests in the Rhodope Mountains, the resort is situated 4,800 feet above sea level and boasts miles of excellent ski runs and cross country skiing tracks still mostly a secret to Westerners. The World Cup downhill runs are enough to test any expert and “The Wall” remains one of the most difficult ski piste in the world. If that is not enough for the most extreme skier, there is excellent off-piste skiing and snowboarding terrain to explore.
Contact the Bulgaria State Agency for Tourism, E-mail: email@example.com; www.bulgariatravel.org
Among the most popular countries in Europe overall, Croatia’s appeal and access is gaining strength with air service and cruise calls.
At presstime, Trade Winds was still in negotiations regarding what could be twice weekly service between New York’s JFK, stop in Zagreb and finally land in Dubrovnik. The historic service is significant as it is the first time the country is being serviced with direct flights; similarly Skyservice Airlines has been operating thrice weekly nonstop service between Toronto and Zagreb for the past two years.
Although visitor arrivals to Croatia remain heavily European who arrive in cars, and RVs, Americans are now making up 27% of the visitor arrivals for a total of 215,025 North American visitors in 2007. Undoubtedly, Dubrovnik remains the most popular destination for American travelers but Zagreb is gaining a reputation as one of the Art Cities of Europe. Coastal resort, Opatija will soon welcome several new four and five-star properties and wellness centers, while overall, Croatia has recently welcomed Westin, Hilton, Ugo, and Le Meridien. Additionally, a new property on the island of Rab, the Arbiana Rab, a member of Charming World Hotels has just started marketing in the U.S. Adriatic Luxe Hotels, villas and boutique properties and wellness centers, a specialty Croatia has always been known for. Thalassotherapy has arrived in Opatija as well as in wellness centers in the Kvarner region in Crickvenica, Selce,Lovran, and the island of Losinj.
Croatia is also gaining visibility on the cruise front as Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Radisson Seven Seas, Celebrity and other cruise lines are dropping their anchors on the Dalmatian coast in Dubrovnik, Korcula, Split, Zadar, Sibenik, Opatija and Rijeka.
Contact the Croatian National Tourist Board, 212-279-8672; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.croatia.hr
The city is buzzing with news from the Hilton Prague Old Town (www.HiltonPragueOldTown.com), which has officially celebrated the opening of the hotel and restaurant, MAZE, in Prague, Czech Republic. Centrally located in the heart of downtown Prague, The Hilton Prague Old Town recently underwent a complete refurbishment by noted designers David Collins and Alexandra Champalimaud, who found inspiration from the city’s great architectural landmarks and artisan traditions with a subtle nod to Czech Modernism and the Cubism movement. The Hilton Prague Old Town also is the home of Gordon Ramsay’s MAZE, his first restaurant in Eastern Europe.
Recently, Czech Airlines was selected the “Best Airline in Eastern and Central Europe” by Business Traveler magazine based on the results of an annual reader poll; the respondents rated the airlines’ onboard service and their range of destinations.
“Czech Airlines again confirmed this a few days ago by finishing first in the on-time rankings of the Association of European Airlines,” said Czech Airlines’ Vice President for Marketing and Product Development Petr Pi’tilak. Czech Airlines has been a member of SkyTeam since 2001.
Contact Czech Tourism, 212-288-0830; E-mail: email@example.com; www.czechtourism.com
According to a recent report that appeared in the January issue of Jax Fax, 14 five-star properties and 41 four-star choices are involved in an ongoing campaign that entitles clients booking three consecutive nights, a fourth for free. Overall, occupancy rates have increased at a 50% clip during recent years. The wide Danube (Duna in local vernacular) determines location—either in flat Pest’s commercial, cultural and government districts on the east side or over in hilly west-side Buda, dominated by Hungary’s Royal Castle and traversed by narrow streets laid out in the Middle Ages
Three UNESCO World Heritage Sites augment the capital’s prestige: the castle complex includes the Hungarian National Gallery, Pest’s riverfront Parliament, and the one-mile stretch of thoroughly urbane Andrássy Avenue, lined with mansions and monumental public buildings, restored to their 19th-century opulence.
For Budapest at its cultural showiest, nothing beats each year’s two-week Spring Festival, with #27 in the annual series coming March 14-30. For tickets www.festivalcity.hu.
Contact the Hungarian National Tourist Office, 212-695-1221; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.gotohungary.com
Warsaw, the land of Chopin, will focus on Ludwig von Beethoven as the city hosts the 13th edition of an international Beethoven Festival this year. Tour operators such as American Travel Abroad and Orbis are expected to organize packages to the event but in the meantime, queries can be directed to an alliance of hotels in Warsaw – the Warsaw Destination Alliance – a consortium of eight four to five-star properties. Among the participating properties are the Hilton Warsaw Hotel, the InterContinental Warsaw, La Regina Hotel, the Sofitel Victoria Warsaw, Holiday Inn Warsaw, the Novotel Warsaw Centrum, the Polonia Palace Hotel and Le Royal Meridien Bristol.
Contact the Polish National Tourist Office, 201-420-9910; E-mail email@example.com; www.polandtour.org
Bucharest, Romania’s capital city is about to welcome the country’s largest luxury hotel when the 424-room new Radisson opens its doors this month on March 31, 2008. It is located in the heart of the city, steps from the Romanian Athenaeum, home to the Romania Philharmonic and steps from Romania’s National Museum of Art. Visit www.radissonsas.com
Some fascinating inclusive tours have been developed for 2008, showcasing the heritage of Romania, a land where rural farmers invite travelers into their homes to share a sip of tuica (a potent plum liquor) and bit of homemade bread and cheese. Simion Alb, Director of the Romanian Tourist Board in New York says, “This year, it will be possible to combine tours of Romania with such nearby countries as Croatia or Hungary – all within a two-hour flight or a day’s drive.” Included in most tours are treasured world-heritage sites as Sighisoara or southern Bucovina’s ancient painted monasteries. Additionally, Open Skies agreements coming into effect this month make it equally possible for travelers to skip endless layovers to reach some of Romania’s most interesting places. Getting there is also becoming easier: Delta flies nonstop flights between New York-JFK and Bucharest while Austrian Airlines, named the preferred airline to Romania since 2002, has again been named “the designated, preferred air carrier for travel from America to Romania in 2008,” said Alb.
Austrian Airlines provides trans-Atlantic service with connections from many US cities, via Vienna, to Romania from NY/JFK, DC/Dulles and Chicago/O’Hare as well as from Toronto/Pearson airports. Austria links its North American gateways with five cities in Romania: Bucharest, Cluj, Sibiu, Lasi and Timisoara.
Contact the Romanian National Tourist Office, 212-545-8484; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; www.RomaniaTourism.com
International air service to Moscow is quickly moving from Sheremetyevo Airport to the modern Domodedovo International Airport (DME), the new air hub and terminal, which now ranks as the leading airport in Moscow. Domodedovo operates a passenger terminal at the Paveletsky railway and metro station in the center of Moscow. Trains (Aeroexpress) leave on the hour (every 30 minutes at peak times of the day) for the 40-minute transfer to the airport, and with the help of Domodedovo Air Rail Service (DARS) passengers can also travel by express from the centre of Moscow to other Russian cities. Visit www.domodedovo.ru
The city of Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia is experiencing a bit of a travel boom, according to Simona Kovacova, Sales & Marketing Manager for New York-based Tatra Travel/Czech Vacations (see Best Buys for some of Tatra’s latest city-stays). Americans traveling on river cruises often become acquainted with Bratislava as it is set on the Danube and is less than an hour drive from Vienna and two hours from Budapest making it also accessible by train or boat hydrofoil as well as by bus or car using newly built highways. Its charm is getting noticed by the increasing number of visitors attracted by the coziness of this smallish city with historic charm found in its castles, palaces, and historical monuments, as well as in its cuisine breweries, art museums and music concerts and festivals.
Contact the Slovak Tourist Board, E-mail: email@example.com; www.cometoslovakia.com
bmi Adds London-Moscow Service
This month, bmi will introduce an additional service between London Heathrow and Moscow Domodedovo March 30, 2008 bringing daily service up to three flights with two services being operated by bmi and one by its partner Transaero. The additional daily service, which launches at the start of the summer 2008 timetable, builds on the success of the current daily Moscow flight which launched in October 2006 and marked bmi’s first venture into the mid haul market.
The new timetable will also see the introduction of an additional late evening service between Heathrow and Manchester taking the total to eight flights a day, as well as an improved schedule for the three times daily service between Heathrow and Durham Tees Valley.
Astana Links Nomad Club with Lufthansa
Travelers can earn points on Lufthansa’s Miles and More frequent flyer program when they travel on Air Astana's flights to and from Frankfurt, Hannover and London. Remember to quote your clients’ Miles and More Frequent Flyer membership number at time of reservation or during Check-in. Visit firstname.lastname@example.org
Air Astana, which is the flag carrier forthe Republic of Kazakhstan, operates a network serving 25 domestic and 21 international destinations from its hubs in Almaty, Astana and Atyrau. Frequency to Moscow was increased to 21 flights weekly from Almaty, Astana and Aktau; flights from Germany increased to six per week from Almaty and Astana and increased to four per week to Amsterdamfrom Atyrau. For Asia, Beijing frequencies increased to six per week, to thrice weekly and Seoul twice a week from Almaty.
Call 888-855-1557; E-mail Usa.email@example.com; www.airastana.com
Malev Invests in Wine in the Air
In the air, the drinks selection on board Malév aircraft has been renewed with fine wines from top Hungarian cellars. The airline’s flight attendants serve the majority foreign passengers with reds, whites, dessert wines and sparkling wines on board approximately 120 flights a day traveling to 53 destinations in 34 countries. The wine list, updated from January, was unveiled recently on board the airline’s largest Boeing 767-300. Twelve winemakers entered a total of 84 wines to the Malév two-round wine tender, out of which the carrier’s jury of experts picked 14 wines from 9 cellars on the basis of the wine’s characteristics and, naturally, marketing and financial aspects, too. The wines of the chosen cellars already hold numerous distinguished awards and medals. And Malev clients are taking notice as Deputy CEO Zoltán Mester gave details of the wine consumption habits of their clients: “Malév customers consumed a total 291,000 bottles of wine and sparkling wine on board our aircraft in 2007. Red wine headed the list at 160,000 bottles (120,000 litres), while flight attendants served 91,000 bottles of white (68,250 litres). These numbers are a clear indicator of the significant marketing value for wines offered on board Malév flights.” Visit www.malev.us