Calabria: A MICE and Wedding Destination

My friend Stefano Ferri, a journalist as well as a leading expert in communication for companies involved in MICE, especially from Italy has again focused on an Italian region, Calabria.

With Italy starting post-lockdown promotion, Calabria has certainly taken the lead as one of the top destinations. After celebrating the beginning of its rebirth with last June’s Undiscovered Italy Tour, which had a wide echo around the world is from this September starting a promo campaign under the same format, Undiscovered Italy Tour with have travel agents and media.

Undiscovered Italy Tour is conceived and created by Daniela Corti, a professional event and wedding planner under the company Daniela Corti Events with the patronage of Enit (the Italian tourism board). Now in its third edition, the initiative is, as always, carried out in collaboration with Canadian Tour Operator Susan Barone of Luxury Weddings Worldwide and InStyle Vacations.

The participants, about twenty, will visit places and venues suitable for the celebration of weddings or for the organization of international events, and will personally meet the local excellences of the industry. They will visit the provinces of Vibo Valentia and Reggio Calabria from various points of view: the venues, the food & wine supply chain, the excellences and their most significant services for weddings or major events.

The group will be based at the beautiful Uliveto Principessa Park Hotel in Cittanova (province of Reggio Calabria) and then will move to: Serra San Bruno (province of Vibo Valentia), with a visit to the Certosa and an introduction to the wonderful typical spontaneous products (porcini mushrooms); the stone city of Zungri (province of Vibo Valentia as well) for a tasting of pecorino cheese from Monte Poro; Reggio Calabria, with a visit to the Castello degli Dei, the National Archaeological Museum, the Museo del Bergamotto and the L’A Gourmet L’Accademia of famous chef Filippo Cogliandro. In addition to Enit, this itinerary is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Vibo Valentia. Partner for ground services is Antoior Travel. Local media coverage by C TV.

Calabria: the reasons for a success

A study by Eurispes Calabria analyzed the data on tourist flows provided by CNA Turismo on its members. The ranking of the most visited Regions of Italy, prepared on the basis of the reservations for the month of August, certifies that Calabria jumped into the top five of the most visited Regions in Italy in summer 2020, preceded by Apulia, Tuscany, Sicily and Sardinia.

This fifth place is definitely not surprising, considering the efforts made by local operators both to promote themselves and to highlight the extraordinary landscape beauties of the area – a territory that the Italians have proved to love and appreciate for what it is: one of the most beautiful natural palettes of colours, beaches, sea, hills and mountains on earth.

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Cloud7 - A luxury brand of serviced apartments debuts in Aqaba

Aqaba, Jordan's only coastal city with red sea beaches, vibrant coral reefs and snorkeling gets a new luxury brand Cloud7 – from the stables of mixed-use operator Kerten Hospitality. Cloud7 already a well known innovative, serviced apartments management brand for the young is debuting in the Middle East with the opening of Cloud7 Residence Ayla Aqaba in the heart of the game-changing lifestyle destination Ayla Resort.

With 75 fully serviced apartments it has four apartment categories - from one to four bedrooms - featuring a modern design that incorporates authentic Middle Eastern influences, impeccable service and warm hospitality that caters to different age groups in a cozy, family-friendly setting. Over 90 dining, entertainment and retail outlets will offer guests customized experiences during their long-term visits and staycations in the heart of the eco-friendly oasis and the Marina Village, which was also conceived to host artistic and cultural events all year round.

"We are thrilled to be joining the Ayla family with the opening of Cloud7 Residence in Jordan in such a trend-setting ‘bleisure’ destination that provides residents and guests a secluded location to work, relax, socialize, and exercise," said Antony Doucet, Brand & Marketing Director at Kerten Hospitality and the pre-opening GM of the Cloud7 Residence in Jordan. "Thrill-seekers, nomadic travelers, wellness addicts, vacationers and residents will get a taste of our soft touch hospitality amidst a world of cuisines, plenty accommodation choices, entertainment and sports facilities."

Just a five-minute drive from the city center one can use it as a hub to visit one of the world's most iconic wonders, the ancient ruins of Petra as well as the famous Wadi Rum.

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"We have introduced an Absolute Care program"

To get an insight into how Grand Xenia is handling the COVID-19 situation we did an e-interview with Jaydeep Bhat, AVP, Gupta Prime Resorts Pvt Ltd. Excerpts

How do you view the current COVID-19 situation?

COVID-19 has affected every sector across the globe, and the hotel industry is among the hardest hit - a pandemic never experienced before. These times will be challenging, but it will be imperative that we stand united, as an industry working towards the future. We want to assure our guests those who are travelling during this pandemic time that their safety and comfort remain our highest priority and we are always there to take special care of them.

At Grand Xenia, we have always practised being open and transparent with our guests and colleagues. We have always placed the highest emphasis on the safety and wellbeing of our guests with exacting standards of cleanliness and hygiene. With the risks associated with COVID-19, and in keeping with WHO and MoT guidelines, we have implemented a number of additional measures.

How will you ensure a safe experience for the guests?

We have introduced an Absolute Care program which encapsulates every minor detail within our operating standards to ensure that we are looking at the safety and security of our guests and associates and covering every single element /touch point in our protocols. This is our promise to our customers as they feel comfortable to engage with us again.

We are strictly following government advisories and guidelines on hygiene and cleanliness. We are conducting awareness sessions on COVID-19 for the entire staff and organizing regular training sessions for our housekeeping staff to follow high standard hygiene protocols. Our staff is taking the utmost care with regards to handling of food / bed n bath linen / common area sanitization / garbage disposal as per latest guidance and hygiene protocols, we assure you that they are well trained to handle situations that may occur at any of our hotels and we have confidence in their abilities.

Post COVID-19 would you focus on staycations?

Absolutely. We have already tied up with large online platforms for booking tours and other activities and experiences, as selling experiences will be key to success, creating compelling stories on blogs and social media of Ajmer and Rajasthan would encourage guests to travel back to Rajasthan.

How about MICE?

The ongoing lockdown in the country and pause in all domestic and international travel has impacted all segments -- domestic, inbound and outbound; and all verticals - leisure, MICE, heritage, adventure and niche. We have adapted below practices to handle MICE/ Wedding Segment. These are - Limit attendees (1 person per 2 square-meter space; Body temperature screening (use of a track and trace app); Distancing practice at the MICE venues, elevators, restrooms, restaurants and canteens; An efficient tracking system in case a delegate becomes ill after visiting the venue; Queuing system with the separation of waiting areas before entering the venue.

F&B is vital. How do you take care of the gastronomy of your guests?

Food will never go out of fashion and the future trends in the food segment are going to be experimental. During lockdown our food production team was busy experimenting new fusion food, we are coming up with new food menus which offer a modern touch on Indian cuisine through the use of molecular gastronomy. We have introduced destination dining experiences in our staycation packages like dinner at the sand dunes with Rajasthani folk dance, tea at the lakeside.

Any philanthropic spirit from the group?

We have not just supported our own team and their families but also reached out to various government bodies to provide shelter or quarantine facilities for frontline Covid-19 warriors by offering free stays and meals. Our group properties have become the new shelter for frontline health workers who are risking their lives to keep us safe.

On a personal front why have you chosen to pursue a career in the hotel industry?

The hospitality industry allows you to develop yourself – professionally and also as a person. Not only do you improve on the professional skills you already possess, but with time and commitment you learn others due to the variety of colleagues, clients and situations that will put you to the test. I enjoy interaction with my guest and also like the satisfaction that comes after helping them solve a problem. It is a worthwhile reward to me as a service provider.

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Ajmer: Worth a visit

Ajmer and Pushkar are not only for pilgrimage site for Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims but also renowned for some of the oldest geological structures in India. So when my dear friend Jaydeep Bhat, AVP, Gupta Prime Resorts Pvt Ltd invited me and my spouse to visit his beautiful twin properties - Grand Xenia and Paradizzo Resort we felt it a good idea (this was just a week before lockdown).

Landing at Jaipur airport (the nearest airport from Ajmer) late evening, the hotel vehicle was there to pick us up. It took us nearly 3 hours (125 kilometres) to reach Paradizzo Resort. Check-in was quick and we were allotted a nice Resort with, unpolluted environs which help to rejuvenate body, mind and soul. The quiet poolside promises a breath taking view. Though the resort has only 40 rooms including 3 suites what attracted me was the lush green lawns making it an ideal MICE and wedding destination. "Thanks to the vast space we can accommodate large events be it seminars, conferences, gala dinners, wedding receptions. If it’s a large event and more rooms are required we have another hotel that can accommodate additional 100 people. The Poolside Barbeque is another attraction that offers a romantic setting for dining and barbeques," said Jaydeep Bhat. During our stay we had the pleasure of experiencing a romantic poolside dinner at Paradizzo Resort.

We also stayed at Grand Xenia, Ajmer’s first Banquet Hotel, for two nights. Its quite a modern hotel with an aura of opulence. The hotel has 3 Exclusive Suites (worth experiencing) and 60 spacious guestrooms with good banqueting space.

Ajmer is one of India’s heritage cities and has the world famous Pushkar, Ajmer Sharif Dargah, Sand dunes and Anna Sagar Lake but not promoted extensively. Seeing an opportunity to promote not just his hotels but also the city, destination dinning, hi-tea by the lake etc Jaydeep has introduced various packages. We did have the pleasure of having hi-tea by the lake with the chefs.


Pushkar, situated about 10 km from Ajmer is a pilgrimage site for Hindus and Sikhs. Located on the shore of Pushkar Lake - Semi-circular in shape and about 8-10 metres deep, is surrounded by 52 bathing ghats and over 400 temples and is truly a magnificent sight to behold. The most famous among Pushkar temples is the Brahma Temple (the only Brahma temple in the world). Legend has it that this lake was consecrated to Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe when a lotus dropped from his hand into the vale and a lake emerged in that place. No pilgrimage is considered to be complete without a dip in in the holy Pushkar Lake. The city is also significant for its Gurdwaras dedicated to Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh. Pushkar is famous for its annual Pushkar Camel Fair. Held over seven days mostly in November it attracts nearly 200,000 people.

Ajmer Dargah

The Ajmer Sharif Dargah is considered to be among the holiest Muslim shrines in India. We were shown around by Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chishti, the Sufi saint from Persia is enshrined here who is believed to be the descendant of Muhammad, and it is on his request that he came to India. In keeping with his secular teachings, its doors are open to people of all faiths and religions. The shrine was built by Mughal King Humayun in honour of this saint. Made of marble and gold plating, the actual tomb is guarded by a silver railing and a marble screen.It is believed that if you pray for anything with a pure heart it is bound to be fulfilled. There is a sense of peace and serenity inside the premises of dargah with so many beautiful flowers and burning incense sticks.

It’s difficult to take own vehicle there as the approach road is very narrow. If you visit first time then don’t forget to take your hanky for covering your head. The place is quite crowded and if you are a family do try to stay together. Jaydeep had connected us to Faizan Bhai, one of the descendants of the family, whonot only showed us around but also assisted us in getting to the main worship area where we had a very good Darshan.

Other places not to miss out are Anasagar Lake, Lake Foy Sagar, Prithviraj Smark, Taragarh Fort, Nasiyan Temple, Chamunda Mata Temple, Nareili Jain Temple and The Ajmer Jain temple, also known as Soniji Ki Nasiyan or Swarna Nagari or City of Gold.

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A MICE hotel with spectacular harbor views

Among the top hotel groups in Hong Kong Harbour Plaza Hotels & Resorts has created a niche for themselves especially there two flagship hotels - Harbour Grand Hong Kong, Harbour Grand Kowloon. So when I decided to visit Hong Kong to cover an event I decided to use this opportunity to experience Harbour Grand Kowloon. Co-ordinating with Loretta Wong, Director of Marketing Communications, Harbour Grand Kowloon and Kevin Chu, Senior Marketing Communications Officer, Harbour Grand Kowloon, I landed at this multi-award winning hotel.

On arrival what probably catches most guest’s attention is the imposing lobby with the grand marble staircaseand the magnificent Swarovski crystals creating a wave. I was later informed that the massive 15-metre chandelier named the "Prisms of Light" is made up of approximately 150,000 Swarovski Element Strass Crystals.

Check in was smooth and though I arrived quite early they checked me in and gave me a room in the new tower with some stunning views of the harbor skyline. "The tower in which you are staying has our brand new guestrooms. The new Tower is connected to the hotel’s main building by a sky bridge making it convenient for our guests to move across the buildings without stepping out," said Victor Chan Kok-wai, GM, Harbour Grand Kowloon, a veteran of 30 + years in the hospitality sector. He has also been the Chairman of the Hong Kong Hotels Association and a board member of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Although the hotel was under renovation (many rooms including the club lounge were not operational) the new tower rooms (you first need to take the lift to the 20th floor and then cross over) are quite comfortable with modern design, elegant furnishingsand a very comfortable sofa bed.What I liked was the handy master switch, as well as switches for the nightlight, ceiling lights, spotlight and foyer are easily accessible. The gorgeous marble bathroom (could have been more spacious) gives two options - a bath tub or a walk-in shower.

The hotel has 900+ spacious and well-furnished guestrooms including 360 brand new Tower rooms and suites. This sparkling glass structure, is right on the waterfront offering splendid views across Victoria Harbour. Infact you can get abundant views from the restaurants, fitness center, pool, and almost half of the guest rooms.

Location wise the hotelhas a great advantage of being right just a few steps from the MTR Whampoa Station. From the airport one can take a taxi or the hotels limousine or the Airport Express to Kowloon Station - then 10 minutes to the hotel. The hotel provides complimentary shuttle bus to downtown Tsim Sha Tsui every 30 minutes. In case you prefer the ferry it’s adjacent to Hunghom Ferry Pier travelling to North Point. Thus from the hotel one can choose transportation by either metro, road or water. But if you prefer to walk to the downtown you can do so relishing thegorgeous views of the harbour and surroundings.

On the culinary side thehotel has five distinctive restaurants with diverse dining options. The Promenade is the hotels all day dinning restaurant. Located at lobby level on the backdrop of the Victoria HarbourThe Promenade showcases abundant delicacies, including Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asian, Western dishes, as well as delectable grills and handcrafted desserts. For breakfast they have a small Indian counter and every day morning I used to relish Indian tit bits. Inafct Surendran, the Asian chef also organized a nice Indian dinner for me. The Waterfront Bar & Terrace, located on the outdoor patio offers happy hour drinks and space for private events was recently refurbished.

The other restaurants are Robatayaki that provides guests an authentic Japanese culinary journey; Harbour Grill is a fine dining restaurant; Corner Café, located in the corner of the lobby, serves premium coffee and tea as well as a selection of homemade pastries, sandwiches and other delicacies; Hoi Won Teen specialises in Cantonese cuisine. Thanks to its extensive floor-to-ceiling glass one can enjoy 210 degrees of the Victoria Harbour without any obstruction.

Apart from the stunning views, Harbour Grand Kowloon with a private pier is a remarkable venue for MICE and weddings. With approximately 2,350 m² of event space and 12 functional venues including a brand new Whampoa Conference Centre on a dedicated floor Harbour Grand Kowloon can cater for large-scale conferences, small expos, corporate events, private parties etc.

The brand new Grand Ballroom spread over 4,500 square-foot in a pillar less hall is adorned with sculptural chandeliers made with crystals from Swarovski and equipped with state-of-the-art facilities including a high definition LED wall and built-in LCD projectors with screens. The venue can accommodate maximum 600 guests in cocktail style and 33 round tables in banquet style, the Grand Ballroom is a popular venue for grand weddings, annual general meetings, high-tech press conferences, and other large-scale events.

Talking on the MICE front Victor Chan said, "The addition of Whampoa Conference Centre with seven function roomshas almost doubled our hotel’s meeting and event space to 2,350 sqm. The best part is all them will have natural daylight. We must be one of the few hotels in Hong Kong to have 900 rooms as well as a good space for events."

Harbour Plaza Hotels & Resorts

The group manages 11 hotels in Hong Kong, with 8,500+ guest rooms, suites and serviced suites.The 11 hotels include - Harbour Grand Hong Kong, Harbour Grand Kowloon, Harbour Plaza Metropolis, Harbour Plaza North Point, Harbour Plaza Resort City, Harbour Plaza 8 Degrees, Kowloon Harbour front Hotel, The Kowloon Hotel, Rambler Garden Hotel, Rambler Oasis Hotel and the new Hotel Alexandra.

“Hotel Alexandra is the newest addition to our group. Located on the waterfront this newly built design hotel has an affluent Victorian elegance and the foyer and lobby are adorned with palettes of rich gold. When it’s complete you must visit it and see its beauty," said Loretta Wong, Director of Marketing Communications, Harbour Grand Kowloon.

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Not all hotels extend 2020 premium status for 2021 after COVID-19

Marriott, Hyatt, IHG, Hilton, Best Western, Choice Hotels, Radisson, Wyndham requirements for 2021 elite status.

Bonvoy, World of Hyatt, IHG Rewards Clubs, Hilton Honors, Choice Privileges, Radisson Rewards, Wyndham Rewards Loyalty program are the most known hotel reward programs for frequent travelers.

Hotels promise the lowest rates on their website, room upgrades, free internet, early check-in, late check out, suite upgrades, free breakfast, lounge access, free phone access, use of premium facilities for their best clients. To reach a status, travelers are required to book with hotels directly on their booking website, and stay a required number of nights, or spend a minimum amount of money with the hotel group.

COVID-19 makes it difficult, often impossible to stay in hotels due to travel restrictions and closed hotels. Wouldn’t it be logical for all hotel groups to make it easier this year to fulfill the requirement for a 2021 status? Some hotels agreed and extended status for the most loyal guests, others did do nothing so far.

Here is a list of how Marriott, Hyatt, IHG, Hilton, Best Western, Choice, Radisson, Wyndham is currently handling the after COVID-19 season.

Best Western - Best Western has announced that all Best Western Rewards members will maintain their current elite status through January 31, 2022. Additionally, all Best Western elite members whose status was downgraded at the end of 2019 will be restored to their previous status and also will keep that status through January 2022.

Choice Hotels - Choice has not yet announced an extension of elite status, though it’s said that it’s "[continuing] to evaluate opportunities around Elite status." Choice has also paused points expiration until May 31, 2020.

Hilton - Hilton Honors is extending 2020 elite status through March 31, 2022. Additionally, if your 2019 status was set to downgrade in March 2020, the hotel brand has extended that status another year, through March 2021. Points expiration is paused through December 2020, and the expiration date for all Hilton credit card free nights has been extended until August 2021.

Hyatt - Hyatt is extending 2020 World of Hyatt status to February 28, 2022. Hyatt is also pausing points forfeiture through December 31, 2020, and the expiration date on Free Night, Suite Upgrade, and Club Lounge Access awards will be extended to December 31, 2021.

IHG - IHG has reduced the number of nights required for elite status by 25% for 2020. For any points that were set to expire between April 2020 and December 2020, IHG is pushing back the expiration date to December 31, 2020.

Marriott - Marriott Bonvoy is extending the status that you earned in 2019 all the way to February 2022. Points expiration is paused until February 2021, and the expiration date on Suite Night Awards set to expire in December 2020 has been moved to December 2021.

Radisson - Radisson members will maintain the elite status they currently have through February 2022. Radisson is also suspending points expiration for six months and extending the expiration date on free night e-certificates earned with the Radisson Rewards credit card. All e-certificates set to expire between March 1 and July 31 of this year will now expire on June 30, 2021.

Wyndham - Wyndham has announced that it’s extending the elite status through the end of 2021. Wyndham is also pausing the expiration of points between now and September 30, 2020.

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Marloes Knippenberg adds another feather to her cap

Awarded Business Woman of the Year Award 2020.

Marloes Knippenberg, CEO of Kerten Hospitality already a well known name in the hospitality industry was awarded by CEO Today 2020 Business Woman of the Year Award. Marloes is the only leader from the hospitality industry who has been recognized with this global award given to CEOs who have demonstrated expertise in taking their organisations to new heights.

Marloes’ innovative mindset has established Kerten Hospitality as a disruptive, dynamic international hospitality group dedicated to the management of mixed-use developments in key global destinations. Starting with a single hotel, her dynamic leadership has seen the company take giant strides, establishing multiple brands and cementing Kerten Hospitality as a boutique mixed-use operator of choice by creating customised lifestyle destinations that give owners a huge amount of flexibility and deliver a strong return on investment.

Kerten Hospitality will see 4 projects welcome guests in 2020 starting with the organisation’s first mixed-use project that will be opening as part of a unique lifestyle destination in Jeddah later this year. Marloes says, "This project was born as a dream of our Saudi Arabian owners who had a vision of new hospitality. At the time no one envisioned the country would go through such transformation with a stronger hospitality."

The other projects opening this year include Cloud 7 Residence Ayla Aqaba, The House Hotel Al Khiran in Kuwait and The House Hotel Tbilisi in Georgia, in addition to 2 newly signed mix-use developments. "Our brands are agile and they can be combined with other brands to forge partnerships that, in turn, foster communities and collaborations. This is one of our core beliefs."

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