Breaking Travel News interview: Florian Sengstschmid, chief executive, Azerbaijan Tourism Board | Focus

Azerbaijan Tourism Board has been honoured with the title of Europe’s Leading Cultural Destination at the World Travel Awards.

Here Breaking Travel News speaks to Florian Sengstschmid, the chief executive of Azerbaijan Tourism Board, to find out how it feels to have been recognised by voters from around the globe.

Breaking Travel News: Having claimed a top title at the World Travel Awards, how does it feel to have won?

Florian Sengstschmid: We are extremely delighted to be voted as the winners of this prestigious award in the global travel and tourism industry.

This proves that we are on the right path with our strategy to highlight the unique tangible and intangible assets of the country and develop distinctive travel experiences based on these genuine features instead of creating something artificial.

We look forward to welcoming new and returning travellers to take another look at this beautiful country.

BTN: How will the trophy help you to promote Azerbaijan as we move into 2022?

FS: Tourism was one of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic, but with the active ongoing vaccination process and integrated travel protocols implemented, we finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Participation at various international trade shows and exhibitions, numerous marketing campaigns, media work with leading publications and platforms worldwide, cooperation with prominent travel platforms and agencies, digital promotion – all these, topped with new exciting tourism products and experiences are only a part of what we have prepared for the coming year.

Certainly, the World Travel Awards trophy will contribute to achieving greater acknowledgement internationally and bolstering the image of our destination globally.

BTN: What is it that caught the eye of voters; what do you think it is that separates Azerbaijan from its competitors in Europe?

FS: Azerbaijan is a perfect destination for those who wish to explore the rich cultural offering and ancient heritage – the country is home to three masterpieces included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, such as the magnificent Old City (Icherisheher) in Baku, the prehistoric petroglyphs of Gobustan and the astonishingly beautiful Sheki Khans’ Palace with exquisite miniatures in the historic centre of Sheki.

Famous for its breath-taking views, Khinalig village has been included into the UNESCO Tentative List in 2020.

There are also many amazing examples of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in the country, including copper production in the village of Lahij, carpet weaving and the art of making women’s silk headscarf “kelaghayi”.

Being an important hub on ancient Silk Road trade route, Azerbaijan has long been under influence of various cultures and ethnicities, becoming a multicultural country represented by many nations and cultures.

Today, we can see the traces of Caucasian Albania which consisted of more than 26 nations all over Azerbaijan, Jewish settlements in Baku, Guba and Oghuz, Polish heritage in Baku, German heritage in the western parts of Azerbaijan – all represented by tangible and intangible cultural elements.

Shusha, the cultural capital of Azerbaijan, and the Karabakh region in general, will definitely play a crucial role in the development of tourism in the region.

An exceptional combination of an Eastern country with a Western outlook where antiquity merges with modernity, Azerbaijan is an enthralling mixture of people, styles, colours and traditions that never ceases to amaze, and we invite everyone to visit and discover this beautiful destination.

More Information

Find out more about Azerbaijan Tourism Board on the official website.

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Breaking Travel News interview: Andreas Metaxas, chief executive, Metaxa Hospitality Group | Focus

Breaking Travel News editor, Chris O’Toole, speaks to Andreas Metaxas, chief executive of Metaxa Hospitality Group, as the leading Greek hotelier is honoured by the World Travel Awards.

Breaking Travel News: Congratulations of your fresh success at the World Travel Awards – how does it feel to have won?

Andreas Metaxas: It is a great honour for me to have Metaxa Hospitality Group be awarded Greece’s Leading Hotel Group by a renowned institution such as the World Travel Awards.

I feel honoured that they recognise our hard work and efforts to add value and support the growth of the Greek hospitality industry by offering high-quality services with particular care and complete attention to detail for our guests.

Authentic hospitality is a key brand pillar and integral part of our DNA.

Our hotels not merely welcome customers, they welcome true friends and extended family.

We share with them a culture of friendly and humble hospitality which dates back five thousand years.

We thank all our guests and, of course, World Travel Awards for this distinction, and for recognising our hard-working team for their dedication and care to ensure every guest of ours always feels at home when they stay with us.

BTN: As we continue the fightback from Covid-19, how will these trophies boost momentum as we head into the key summer months of 2022?

AM: The pandemic has altered our way of life and the hospitality industry in particular was one of the most affected and changed industries.

Over the summer, we have seen a strong recovery both in Greek tourism and at our properties.

It is wonderful to see people back enjoying our resorts and feeling safe and comfortable while staying with us.

As we close our properties for the season, we are keeping a close eye on the latest global developments and hope we will be looking at a more stable 2022, allowing the hospitality industry to continue regaining momentum and confidence.

At Metaxa Hospitality Group, health and safety have always been among our top priorities and will continue to be so as we look ahead to 2022.

The five distinctions we garnered across the group as a whole as well as for our individual properties at this year’s World Travel Awards are a true indicator of the high level of quality service we deliver to our guests even when faced with difficult global situations.

BTN: Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa in Greece was this year honoured with the title of Europe’s Leading Boutique Resort. What is it that makes that property so special?

AM: It is a great honour to see our property, Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa recognised for the third year in a row among so many other outstanding hotel brands in Europe.

Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa is the ultimate serene hideaway for those who seek amazing views, tranquil vacations, luxury accommodation, and warm hospitality in Oia Santorini, one of the world’s best loved destinations in Greece.

Located only a five-minute walking distance away from the village centre, the resort boasts amazing direct views to the world-famous sunset of Santorini and the Aegean Sea.

Original, laid-back, and private is how to describe Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa best.

Guests feel immediately at home as they walk through our doors, and they know instantly that all their needs will be seamlessly met.

This summer, Santo Maris had a strong year despite the inconsistency in travel recommendations from global governments.

We saw key markets such as US travellers come back to Santorini, and we hope this will continue in 2022.

BTN: Creta Maris Beach Resort was also recognised as Greece’s Leading All-Inclusive Resort by voters. What separates that hotel in a competitive marketplace?

AM: We are extremely proud that Creta Maris Beach Resort has been distinguished as Greece’s Leading All-Inclusive Resort for the second year in a row.

Creta Maris Beach Resort is a family-friendly all-inclusive five-star resort in Hersonissos, Crete, that combines the tradition and elegance of Cretan hospitality with a safe and sustainable environment.

The resort’s unique architecture and layout as a traditional village, its stylish design, its high-quality services, and its many interesting activities and facilities, both for children and adults such as the on-site aquapark and Europe’s largest outdoor amphitheatre cinema, set this resort apart from other properties in Crete.

Since its opening 46 years ago, the hotel has operated based on principles of authentic Cretan hospitality and sustainable development.

Metaxa Hospitality Group has remained faithful to this philosophy and has continuously issued sustainability reports since 1999 that reflect our continued efforts to improve both our social and environmental footprint, while Creta Maris Beach Resort in 2013 started to produce its own, separate sustainability report.

BTN: Finally, and most significantly, Metaxa Hospitality Group took the title of Greece’s Leading Hotel Group. Can you tell me a little about the group, and your plans to develop it as we head into 2022?

AM: Metaxa Hospitality Group is an internationally recognised and award-winning hotel group.

It was founded in Crete, Greece in 1975 by my father Nikolaos Metaxas and, today, it consists of Creta Maris Beach Resort five-star in Hersonissos, Crete, (the first hotel of the group), TUI Magic Life Candia Maris five-star in Amoudara, Heraklion and Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa five-star in Santorini, as well as a convention centre, one of the largest in Greece which recently hosted the ANOC XXV General Assembly, also in Hersonissos.

Our mission is to lead the business towards a promising sustainable future in which employees, guests, and local communities are at the heart of the group’s activities to benefit the national economy, the environment, and society at large.

The strength of our commitment to sustainable development, our unique local perspective, welcoming hospitality, and our philosophy focused on continuous growth remain our key priorities for the years to come.

More Information

Based on sustainability principles and solid financial foundations, Metaxa Hospitality Group is a leading hotelier in Greece.

Offering authentic personalised holiday experiences with an excellent quality of service to guests, Metaxa Hospitality Group seeks to provide a stimulating and rewarding environment for employees.

Find out more on the official website.

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Breaking Travel News interview: Arvind Bundhun, director, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority | Focus

Mauritius has been honoured with the title of Indian Ocean’s Leading Adventure Tourism Destination among a number of top prizes at the World Travel Awards.

Here Breaking Travel News speaks to Arvind Bundhun, director of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority, to find out how it feels to have been recognised by voters from around the globe.

Breaking Travel News: Having claimed a top title at the World Travel Awards, how does it feel to have won?

Arvind Bundhun: It is a real honour for Mauritius to be recognised as the Indian Ocean’s Leading Adventure Tourism Destination.

We are very proud of the range of experiences we offer to international visitors, and we are delighted to see voters’ appreciation.

The adventure-seeking tourist finds an idyllic destination in Mauritius, able to enjoy something unforgettable each day no matter how long the visit.

This award is a reflection of the hard work, commitment and dedication of our tourism industry workers, from hoteliers to the villa rental operators, the beach traders, skippers, taxi drivers, restaurant owners and street food vendors over what has been a difficult year.

Everyone has worked tirelessly to ensure that Mauritius was ready to welcome guests once the time was right to open our borders, able to give guests the Mauritian paradise experience they know and love, and ensure they are Covid-19-safe and secure.

BTN: How will the trophy help you to promote Mauritius as we move into 2022?

AB: This award is timely as we have just entered our summer season, which is our tourism peak.

It helps shine the light some of the finest experiences Mauritius has to offer beyond our renowned beaches and lagoons.

It is a great asset to be recognised in this way and we expect that it will help push demand for travel to Mauritius up even further.

Demand has been increasing rapidly over the past weeks, as consumers in our key markets respond to changes in travel restrictions which make holidays more doable.

We have increased flight capacity for the national airline, Air Mauritius, from France, South Africa, Reunion and the UK over the coming months, and other airlines are doing the same.

BTN: What is it that caught the eye of voters; what do you think it is that separates Mauritius from its competitors in Africa and the Indian Ocean?

AB: Mauritius isn’t just a holiday island but a living, breathing, working island home to 1.3 million citizens and able to offer all kinds of experience, from the vibrant capital of Port Louis, to the national parks in the south, bustling markets, every type of cuisine from Mauritius’s diverse population, plus sites of historical and cultural significance and breath-taking views and activities for adrenaline-seekers.

BTN: Where does Mauritius stand with the reopening from the Covid-19 pandemic?

AB: Mauritius opened its borders to international tourists on October 1st, after a period of 18 months.

Vaccinated travellers are not subject to any quarantine requirements, providing testing obligations are fulfilled.

Mauritius has had one of the best Covid-19 responses in the world.

Our public health protocols are widely recognised as best-practice, and we have an extremely high vaccination rate – around 90 per cent of the adult population are fully vaccinated.

Tourists can feel absolutely safe and secure, able to enjoy the paradise holiday they truly deserve.

We took a more cautious approach to reopening than many countries, deciding to vaccinate first and then reopen.

This was a key part of our public health-first approach to managing the pandemic, but was also considered to be the best way to ensure long-term stable growth.

Tourism is 25 per cent of our GDP, which meant we had to get reopening right.

The impressive demand we’ve seen in recent weeks vindicates our approach.

More Information

Find out more about Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority on the official website.

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Global Travel Management acquires assets of fellow Focus TMC

Global Travel Management has acquired the clientbase of Buckinghamshire-based Flightline Travel Management.

Surrey-based GTM, ranked 44th in the UK’s Leading TMCs this year, said the deal will enable it to offer continuity of service to Flightline’s clients. Both are members of the UK’s Focus Travel Partnership which largely specialises in serving small and medium-sized businesses.

GTM has not acquired the Flightline Travel Management brand, with Flightline likely to pursue business in other areas of the travel industry.

“It is very sad that the brutal effects of the global pandemic have removed another great name – and a superb SME TMC – from the business travel industry. But we are looking forward to working hand-in-hand with new customers from 1 November 2021,” said Scott Pawley, managing director of Global Travel Management.

Jim McDaid, managing director of Flightline Travel Management, which was ranked 53rd in the UK’s Leading TMCs, added: “I am delighted and confident that our customers will experience a first class service from Global Travel Management’s professional organisation which has the same ethos and work ethic as Flightline.

“In addition, the use of the same products will ensure a seamless transition from Flightline to Global Travel Management”.

In a similar deal, Global Travel Management acquired the assets of Baxter Hoare Travel in May this year.

GTM posted 2019 sales of £23.7 million and Flightline sales of £5.9 million.

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Breaking Travel News interview: Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, minister of tourism, the Philippines | Focus

World Travel Awards, the leading authority that recognises and rewards excellence in tourism, has revealed its Asia and Oceania 2021 winners.

The Philippines has much to celebrate, having been recognised as among the best in the region by voters.

Here Breaking Travel News speaks to Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, minister of tourism for the Philippines, to find out how it feels to have won.

Breaking Travel News: Congratulations on your victory at the World Travel Awards – with the Philippines having been honoured with the titles of Asia’s Leading Beach Destination and Asia’s Leading Dive Destination. How does it feel to have won?

Bernadette Romulo-Puyat: This is the fifth time that the Philippines won as Asia’s Leading Beach Destination and the third time as Asia’s Leading Dive Destination.

But every year that we win is special because it not only proves the exceptional beauty of our islands, but also validates our sustainable efforts in developing and promoting our natural destinations.

These awards are even more meaningful during these challenging times as they are manifestations of the enduring cooperation that we have with our tourism stakeholders and industry towards recovery.

BTN: What is it that makes diving in the Philippines so special – what do you think attracted the eye of voters?

BRP: The Philippines, recognised as the centre of global marine biodiversity, is home to biologically diverse marine and aquatic resources.

The Philippines “has it all,” from the smallest critters to pelagic animals, there is a dive spot for every type of diver, whether you are an underwater photographer, a dive fanatic or a beginner.

Diving in the Philippines offers a wide variety of incredible sights and experiences like exploring caves and World War II shipwrecks, drifting through massive reef walls teeming with marine life, and even blackwater diving, an extreme kind of night dive over deep oceanic waters.

On top of all these spectacular underwater sights, diving in the Philippines is year-round and it is all in warm, crystal clear waters with great visibility.

With diving opportunities that attract divers with a wide range of interests, exceptional service from well-trained and experienced dive professionals and locals, and genuine Filipino hospitality, the Philippines truly is home to some of the world’s best scuba diving.

BTN: How will you be using the award to promote the Philippines as we head into 2022?

BRP: These awards will definitely boost our efforts to keep the Philippines a top-of-mind destination for tourists all over the word as we await the resumption of international leisure travel to the country.

Sun and beach, as well as diving, are among our top tourism products, and we have also developed new tourism circuits that are attuned to the new normal travel preferences.

These recognitions make the Philippines an established beach and dive destination, and can be our jump-off point in promoting new offerings, together with our efforts to ensure compliance with global health and safety standards.

BTN: Finally, can you tell us a little about the mood among the tourism sector in the Philippines – where is the destination with the recovery from Covid-19?

BRP: Tourism has been a significant pillar of Philippine economic development over the past ten years since the enactment of the tourism act of 2009, but with the arrival of the pandemic, it also became one of the hardest hit sectors due the restriction on travel and closing of borders.

In the midst of this pause, our tourism stakeholders have been very patient – they understand that everyone’s health and safety come first, and that the faster we can curb infection rates, the faster we can reopen the industry.

At present, we have been gradually reopening destinations to domestic tourists in areas that are deemed ready based on the assessment of the National Task Force Against Covid-19, and concerned local government units.

From what we have observed, the Filipinos’ appetite for travel remains strong.

With the Philippines’ robust domestic tourism base, we remain optimistic about the prospects of tourism despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.

The destinations that have so far reopened to tourists from all over the country include the Philippines’ crown jewel, Boracay Island, the award-winning island destinations of Cebu, and El Nido and Coron in Palawan, the country’s surfing capital of Siargao, and other beautiful spots near Metro Manila such as Clark, La Union and Ilocos Norte.

This pandemic has given the Philippines’ tourism industry a unique opportunity to explore, develop, and strengthen all the wonderful destinations and activities that we have in order to provide a better travel experience for tourists in the new normal.

More Information

Find out more about visiting the Philippines on the official website.

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Breaking Travel News investigates: Jamaica celebrates at World Travel Awards | Focus

Jamaica was the star of the World Travel Awards Caribbean & North America 2021 Winners Day, scooping a number of top prizes.

Not only did the island defend the title of Caribbean’s Leading Destination – an accolade the country has held for more than a decade – but voters also awarded Jamaica the trophies for Caribbean’s Leading Nature Destination and Caribbean’s Leading Adventure Tourism Destination.

The prestigious prize for Caribbean’s Leading Tourist Board completed the glittering run of success.

A number of hotels, airlines and tour operators from across the tourism sector were also honoured with regional titles.

GoldenEye led the way, walking away with the prize for Caribbean’s Leading Boutique Resort.

No ordinary hotel, but a collection of private villas, the property was recently back in the spotlight following the worldwide premier of the latest Bond film, No Time to Die.

Each of the accommodations is set amid tropical gardens, private beaches and secluded coves, a Jamaica home away from home.

Voters agreed, GoldenEye is a place, a mindset and a far-reaching myth in the collective imagination.

At the same time, Fleming Villa at GoldenEye was honoured with the prize for Caribbean’s Leading Luxury Hotel Villa.

One of the fastest growing sectors in Jamaican tourism is cruise, with a number of facilities on the island being recognised as the best in the region.

Jamaica itself took the title of Caribbean’s Leading Cruise Destination, while the Historic Naval Dockyard at Port Royal was recognised with the trophy for Caribbean’s Leading Tourism Development Project.

Port of Falmouth has also been honoured with the trophy for Caribbean’s Leading Cruise Port, while Port of Montego Bay took Caribbean’s Leading Home Port.

The history and culture of Jamaica provide a source of much fascination, which has set the stage for millions of visitors to be charmed and enchanted by its undeniable beauty.

The cruise business segment is responsible for the development, marketing and operation of the local cruise ports and marina facilities.

The three main award-winning cruise ports, located in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Falmouth (as well as the comparatively smaller Port Antonio) serve as the asset base for the segment.

The larger ports can accommodate mega cruise vessels from the major cruise lines, while Port Antonio serves boutique cruise ships and luxury yachts.

Jamaica also boasts more attractions within one hour of ports compared to other regional cruise facility.

Of course, no discussion of Jamaican tourism would be complete without mention of Sandals Resorts International.

The parent company successfully defended the title of Caribbean’s Leading Hotel Brand – a prize the all-inclusive leader has all but made its own over the years – while Sandals South Coast took the trophy for Caribbean’s Leading Honeymoon Resort.

The all-new Sandals South Coast is the perfect combination of European civility in an all-beachfront all-inclusive resort.

From all-new Over-the-Water Bungalows, an overwater bar, and a romantic Over-the-Water Chapel, the property brings guests closer than ever to the water.

Set on a two-mile stretch of the south coast’s most pristine white-sand beach and nestled within a 500-acre nature preserve, this spectacular seaside oasis features three distinctive European Villages.

The venerable Sandals Montego Bay also took the prize for Jamaica’s Leading Resort.

GO! Jamaica Travel was one of the organisations with most to celebrate, having claimed a trio of titles – Caribbean’s Leading Tour Operator, Caribbean’s Leading Travel Agency and Caribbean’s Leading Destination Management Company.

As the company continues to expand into various markets worldwide, customer service has remained at the forefront of the organisation.

The goal is to provide a quality product at competitive rates to travellers while keeping the personal touch – a sentiment recognised by World Travel Awards voters.

For those with more adrenaline, Island Routes Caribbean Adventures took the prize for Caribbean’s Leading Adventure Tour Operator and Dunn’s River Falls was presented with the trophy for Caribbean’s Leading Adventure Tourist Attraction.

In aviation, Sangster International Airport has led the fightback from Covid-19, welcoming millions of guests to Jamaica this year.

In recognition its role in regional tourism, voters honoured the facility with the prize for Caribbean’s Leading Airport, while Club Mobay at Sangster International took Caribbean’s Leading Airport Lounge.

Sangster International Airport is the leading tourism gateway to the island of Jamaica – one of the world’s most beautiful and desired destinations.

It is ideally located on the northwest coast of the island – at the centre of the country’s main tourism region and close to a wide range of hotel and resort facilities.

The airport is within easy driving distance of the cruise ports at Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, as well as Negril.

For business travellers, Montego Bay Convention Centre was honoured with the prize for Caribbean’s Leading Meetings & Conference Centre, while Island Car Rentals took Caribbean’s Leading Independent Car Rental Company.

Rounding out the winners, a number of hotels were recognised as the best in the region.

Rockhouse took the prize for Caribbean’s Leading Boutique Hotel, while Margaritaville Caribbean won the trophy for Caribbean’s Leading Entertainment Venue and The Tryall Club was honoured with Caribbean’s Leading Hotel Residences.

Finally, Jamaica Inn secured Caribbean’s Leading Luxury All Suite Resort, Eclipse at Half Moon walked away with Caribbean’s Leading New Hotel and Round Hill Hotel & Villas won Caribbean’s Leading Villa Resort.

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Breaking Travel News investigates: Raffles Dubai | Focus

It can be a challenge to standout amid the stunning skyline of Dubai.

The city, rising from the desert, is a myriad of architectural wonders, each more dazzling than the last.

But, amid the riches, Raffles Dubai strikes an unmistakable pose; one of the most venerable and respected properties in the city.

Situated next to sister hotel, Sofitel the Obelisk, the Egyptian-themed destination is a bastion of luxury in this famed destination.

Inspired by the great pyramids, Raffles Dubai is the epitome of residential elegance and warm Arabian hospitality.

An iconic landmark of sheer opulence, it features palatial suites and rooms distinguished by sophisticated Asian, Middle Eastern and Egyptian decor.

Harmonious elements of earth, air, fire and water inspire its graceful architecture, setting unrivalled standards of refined luxury and impeccable comfort.

A surprising, chic merging of Asian style with an Egyptian aesthetic, Raffles Dubai is perfectly positioned in the heart of the city, delivering the unexpected luxury of space, impeccable service and sophisticated style.

Loved by travellers for the warmth of its service and the sophistication of the aesthetic, the hotel offers some of the most spacious rooms in the city – generously proportioned, sumptuously appointed and blessed with a uniquely Raffles sensibility.

With their walk-in showers, sitting areas and balconies the rooms are like suites; and the suites are … extraordinary.

At night, the views from your private balcony stretch out forever.

Throughout, the elegant Raffles Club Rooms offer luxury and privacy to discerning business travellers and leisure seekers.

Rooms are generous in size and boast a décor inspired by Middle Eastern and contemporary Asian designs.

Handcrafted ornaments and luxurious fabrics create a sophisticated home away from home ambience.

For those with the resources, the Royal Suites are true masterpieces.

While luxury abounds at Raffles Dubai, nowhere is it more striking than in the two spectacular accommodations.

One draws inspiration from Asian design while the other features Middle Eastern décor.

Lavish interiors, luxurious fabrics and handsome works of art create a residential sanctuary.

Each is a sophisticated and luxurious home.

Each is an unforgettable experience that is second to none.

With a choice of seven exceptional restaurants and bars, as well a myriad of restaurants in Wafi, Raffles Dubai is the ultimate destination from which to explore the amazing boutiques, shops and souks of the city.

This iconic architectural gem is beautifully positioned close to the magnificent Khan Murjan souk, Dubai International Airport and convention centres.

Guests are also close to Dubai International Financial Centre, Dubai World Trade Centre and Exhibition Halls – and just a short hop to the sea, sand and sunbathing off the coast.

Surrounded by lush private gardens, Raffles offers space to live, breathe and express yourself in unique style.

An outdoor pool, a state-of-the-art gym, the exceptional Raffles Spa – with six treatment rooms including a couple’s suite – and the exclusive Raffles Garden to complete the picture.

Surprising, delightful, delicious – and promising an incredible sense of space, service and unforgettable style – this destination hotel is an oasis of calm and charm for those for whom life is always an adventure.

Of course, Dubai is recognised as the Middle East’s Leading Meetings & Conference Destination by voters at the World Travel Awards, so there is business to be done amid all the luxury – and what better place than Raffles?

Set the agenda for a successful event in the city with the support of Raffles’ experienced planners and gracious service, dedicated to your every need.

The 11 flexible meeting spaces, multi-functional Library, private Raffles Garden and spectacular Raffles Ballroom offer endless options that ensure an event’s success.

Raffles is considered to be one of the most venerable names in hospitality.

The brand goes out of its way to give guests the warmest welcome, the richest experiences and the fondest of memories.

Today the legend continues all around the world.

From the classic colonial splendour of Raffles Singapore where it all began to urban oasis in Dubai, Paris or Warsaw and peaceful resorts in Maldives, Bali or Makati.

The Raffles Story will soon continue in London, Boston and Moscow, as well as many more leading destinations.

The Raffles name is synonymous with luxury, glamour and extraordinary adventure.

Each hotel is an oasis of calm and charm at the crossroads of a civilisation.

Each is a carefully chosen destination in its own right.

Each is uniquely, indefinably, sublimely Raffles.

Now, as the brand grows, and reach new and sometimes surprising destinations, guests can rest assured that wherever in the world they travel, the company will remain distinctly Raffles – infused with the same spirit of adventure, luxury and sublime service.

Exciting and enchanting, refreshing and reinvigorating, Raffles is loved by those with an adventurous spirit and a taste for the very best.

More Information

A part of Dubai, a place apart, Raffles Dubai is a five-star luxury hotel that embodies an oasis of calm and charm with an incredible sense of space, service and unforgettable style.

The property recently took the Middle East’s Leading Hotel Service Award at the World Travel Awards.

Find out more on the official website.

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Breaking Travel News interview: Abdulaziz Al Raisi, chief executive, Oman Air | Focus

As the Middle East winners are unveiled at the World Travel Awards, Breaking Travel News speaks to Abdulaziz Al Raisi, chief executive of Oman Air, about taking a number of top titles.

Breaking Travel News: Where does Oman Air stand with rebuilding its network in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic? Are departures close to reaching 2019 levels?

Abdulaziz Al Raisi: The severe reduction in global passenger demand caused by the pandemic as well as travel restrictions across our network have led to a temporary suspension of some of our routes, and limited frequency on remaining routes.

As vaccination rates pick up globally, we aim to increasingly reopen our routes – however, this will depend on the relaxing of travel restrictions worldwide and the gradual recovery of global demand for air travel.

We will also continue to strengthen relationships with our codeshare partners to offer our guests even more destinations to fly to.

Our main objective is to identify routes that connect Oman to the world, contribute to Oman’s economy, and promote tourism, business travel to Oman and Oman as a destination.

Finally, we plan on streamlining our fleet of aircraft by replacing and retiring older aircraft with newer aircraft offering greater fuel efficiency and fewer emissions while enhancing passenger comfort.

BTN: What measures are Oman Air taking to keep passengers safe in the wake of the pandemic?

AAR: Elevated health and safety standards have been an integral part of Oman Air’s guest experience since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic early last year, and have since remained at the forefront of the airline’s operational priorities.

Oman Air was quick to respond to the health challenges brought about by the pandemic – not only on board our aircraft but across our entire guest experience – and safeguarding the flying public in the face of unprecedented crisis continues to guide the airline’s recovery plans and reassures our passengers that they can fly with confidence.

Oman Air and our holidays division proudly display the Safe Travels stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

BTN: The carrier recently boosted flights to Salalah for the Khareef season – how important is domestic tourism to the carrier?

AAR: Domestic tourism in Oman is an important part of our business, especially in Khasab, a popular port city on northern Oman’s breath-taking Musandam peninsula, and Salalah in Oman’s southern Dhofar province, a destination renowned for its spectacular beaches and lush, green landscape during monsoon season (Khareef).

Both destinations are big draws among tourists in the GCC as well as Europeans in search of unique experiences in the Middle East.

Both destinations are easily accessible from Muscat International Airport, with relatively short flying times making them ideal for day trips or overnight stays.

As infrastructure projects in other parts of Oman are completed, we expect to see increased demand for domestic travel—both among locals looking to explore their own backyard, and international travellers seeking to venture beyond Muscat. 

BTN: Oman Air has been honoured with the titles of Middle East’s Leading Airline – Customer Experience and Middle East’s Leading Airline at the World Travel Awards – how does it feel to have taken such prestigious titles?

AAR: We are extremely honoured and proud of this prestigious win which confirms Oman Air’s hard work to provide an exceptional travel experience to its guests.

This win will motivate our dedicated team to continue ensuring that every Oman Air passenger experiences the best possible products and services.

BTN: What do you think it was that caught the eye of voters – what is it that separates Oman Air from its competitors in the region?

AAR: Oman Air offers a unique expression of Omani hospitality, culture and identity.

We also focus on every aspect of the passenger experience to provide a premium and personal travel journey that meets the needs of our guests.

This is what distinguishes Oman Air from its competitors.

BTN: Oman recently outlined its vision for 2040, building a diversified economy to face the future. Where does Oman Air, as the national carrier fit into the plan?

AAR: Vision 2040 envisions tourism as one of the key pillars of economic diversification.

The sultanate’s attractiveness as a tourist destination is clear: an enviable location between Asia, Africa and Europe puts two third of the world’s population within eight hours flying time, one third within four; the sultanate is one of the safest and most secure places in the world – not just in the region – and offers exceptional nature, climate, leisure, culture and history.

Oman Air plays a vital role in Oman’s Vision 2040 strategy by connecting inbound tourists from source international markets to Oman’s tourism ecosystem.

Aviation feeds the tourism sector as much as tourism feeds aviation, and both sectors share a common objective – entice more international travellers to Oman and diversify the economy for sustainable growth.

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Find out more about the award-winning Oman Air on the official website.

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Breaking Travel News investigates: Dubai leads global tourism recovery | Focus

Dubai was one of the first cities globally to reopen its markets and businesses in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and continues to stay open, while ensuring strict compliance with internationally benchmarked health and safety protocols.

Supported by a solid network of stakeholders and partners, the emirate has now launched a new tourism campaign as it seeks to build on the steady influx of visitors seen since the reopening in July last year.

The move is further evidence of a consistent and calibrated approach since the start of the pandemic to ensure the destination remains resilient and safe for international travellers.

The United Arab Emirates has one of the highest per capita vaccination rates in the world, with close to 85 per cent of residents having received at least one dose of the vaccine, and nearly 75 per cent having received both doses to-date.

So what has been behind the successful relaunch of the tourism sector?

Boosted by demand for staycations in the domestic market and visitation from international markets that are open, hotels in Dubai enjoyed occupancy levels of 61 per cent overall from January-to-July this year.

This has further instilled confidence in this sector and demonstrates its capability to attract guests and provide them with world-class hospitality.

By the end of July, the hotel inventory in the emirate stood at 718 establishments offering 129,318 rooms with RevPAR increasing to AED225 (£50) compared to AED194 for the same period in 2020.

In the first seven months of 2021, the occupied room nights for hotels stood at 16.34 million, compared to 10.74 million for the corresponding period in 2020.

According to data from hotel management analytics firm STR, for the first seven months of 2021, Dubai ranked second globally in terms of occupancy after Singapore and ahead of London and Paris.

For the January-July 2021 period, year-to-date RevPAR in Dubai was highest among the four destinations, followed by Singapore, Paris and London.

Dubai has continued to invest in integrated marketing campaigns, highlighting that the city is open to travellers when they are ready to start holidaying again.

The latest campaign, Dubai Presents, features a series of blockbuster trailers helmed by Hollywood icons Jessica Alba and Zac Efron, and is designed to showcase the diversity of experiences, attractions and events that await visitors this year.

These include Expo 2020, which started on October 1st, and celebrations surrounding the fiftieth anniversary of United Arab Emirates on December 2nd.

Dubai Presents builds on a series of global marketing campaigns developed by Dubai Tourism such as A Story Takes Flight, starring Hollywood celebrities Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson and Zoe Saldanha, the award-winning #BeMyGuest featuring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, as well as many other campaigns led by prominent regional celebrities and influencers, in addition to various digital activations.

The recovery strategy, implemented in close coordination with stakeholders, proved crucial in reinvigorating the domestic hospitality market in May last year, preparing the ground for the return of international visitors to the city in July 2020.

As tourists returned to Dubai to enjoy its iconic attractions, experiences and world class infrastructure including beaches, shopping malls, restaurants, theme parks and golf courses, Dubai Tourism remained firmly focused on delivering an exceptional tourism experience whilst prioritising the safety of tourists at every stage and touchpoint of their travel journey, from arrival to departure.

A variety of safety initiatives were launched, based on the guidelines of the Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management, including a wide range of precautionary measures, in addition to effective testing and vaccination programmes.

The vaccination campaign also covered employees across hotels, considered the frontline of the tourism industry, starting with a pilot programme that saw more than 10,000 employees of leading hotels on the Palm Jumeirah receiving the vaccines.

The stringent measures are underpinned by the Dubai Assured stamp, a compliance protocol that certifies establishments within the tourism ecosystem that adhere to health and safety protocols.

Inspectors of Dubai Tourism, Department of Economic Development and Dubai Municipality are also taking a zero-tolerance approach towards non-compliance.

In 2020, when the pandemic was at its peak, the joint teams conducted more than 140,000 inspections on establishments across the tourism ecosystem.

Take a look below as Breaking Travel News speaks to Issam Kazim, chief executive of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism & Commerce Marketing, about the reopening of the tourism market in the emirate:

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With the ultimate vision of positioning Dubai as the leading tourism destination and commercial hub in the world, Dubai Tourism has a mission is to increase the awareness of emirate among global audiences and to attract tourists and inward investment.

The body markets and promotes the commerce sector in the emirate and is responsible for the licensing and classification of all tourism services, including hotels, tour operators and travel agents.

Find out more on the official website.

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Breaking Travel News investigates: Vestnorden returns to Iceland | Focus

The travel trade show for Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, Vestnorden returned this month for its 36th staging on the Reykjanes peninsular. The event opened to nearly 500 guests in person, following a virtual showcase in 2020.

Organised by the North Atlantic Tourism Association (NATA), Vestnorden was held at Hljómahöl Music & Conference Center at the Icelandic Museum of Rock & Roll. Yes, such a place does exist! The event welcomed exhibitors from travel companies throughout the Nordic region and buyers from around the world. Participants were invited to take part in special tours of the destinations pre- and post-event so buyers had the chance to experience all three destinations in person.

After a tumultuous year for the travel sector, representatives from the Nordic destinations were keen to push a sense of optimism and innovation. As Sigríður Dögg Guðmundsdóttir, head of Visit Iceland, explains to Breaking Travel News: “I think it’s so important, the collaboration that we have between these countries; we see there’s a lot of similarities between us and how we are trying to present ourselves to the world.

“As ‘the cool north,’ or with sustainability and equality – there are so many traits you want people to associate with the Nordics.”

Hjörtur Smarason, chief executive of Visit Greenland, agrees, suggesting multi-stop trips are a great way to explore. He continues: “I think it’s very, very important that we are combining the three countries. There’s a lot of synergy between all the islands. They have a lot of the same market segments and the same target groups – to bring in new agents from all around the world that are interested in this region makes a lot of sense. And here you have the opportunity to meet people in person and get to know them better, build up the relationship between a supplier and an agent. And this is just crucial for development.“

Sigríður Dögg Guðmundsdóttir, head of Visit Iceland, led discussions as the event returned

The destinations have used the challenges of the past 18-months to push forward and emerge as leaders and innovators in the industry. As Oddný Arnarsdóttir, liaison for Iceland wellness sector, describes: “We shifted our focus. We took time. We dug deeper. We acknowledged our strengths and also our weaknesses. And by doing so, we’ve generated a greater variety in tourism service all around the country, in all the regions, around the year. From new, unique experiences, small scale, local, sustainable, bespoke products – from Michelin-starred restaurants to authentic dining experiences or living room concerts hosted by locals – the Nordic destinations offer experiences that are unlike anything found anywhere else.”

Sustainability emerged as a key theme, with Arnarsdóttir describing environmental impact as “the red thread that runs through our operations”.

Guðmundsdóttir elaborates: “We have this for the tourism policy specifically – but we also have this for all export industries in Iceland – to be leading in sustainability. So this is definitely something that the government is very focused on. It was tied into every major action to help. Can we do this in a more sustainable way? And does this fit with our overall goal, which is about sustainability in 2030? And I think that is very important.”

Hjörtur Smarason, chief executive of Visit Greenland, discussed how the destination was recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic

All three regions are acutely aware of the effects of climate change on their fragile and unique ecosystems. Smarason explains: “These are very delicate environments; sensitive environments where you really need to think about the impact of tourism. It’s also a necessity because you won’t survive for long as a tourism destination if you do not include sustainability when everything is so fragile.”

The destinations proximity to the polar region really puts them at the front line of climate change where the effects are visible – but this factor also seems to create an urgency and innovation in the countries’ responses to these challenges.

Guðrið Højgaard, chief executive of Visit Faroe Islands explains: “Our brand is our unique selling point, and the fact that while more and more destinations are getting more and more alike, our islands remain authentic and unique, and we want them to remain so – developing sustainably.”

During the last 18-months, where Covid-19 brought unprecedented disruptions to the travel industry, the Nordic destinations were innovative in creating infrastructure while also using the time to keep the conversations going with their customers. They did this by creating successful marketing campaigns, such as Let it all out from Iceland, which received global acclaim, and the Faroe Islands’ Remote Tourism, a detailed interactive experience which brought a great deal of press.

Guðrið Højgaard, chief executive of Visit Faroe Islands, argued sustainability must be central to the work of the organisation

These fresh ways of approaching tourism in difficult circumstances are indicative of the areas of focus at Vestnorden and the selling points of the Nordic region in general: modern, innovative, inclusive and always with a feel for the environmental impact of every aspect of the industry. Despite talk of overtourism, pre-Covid-19, the destinations are also relatively undeveloped markets with space for innovation and new products. This is particularly the case for Greenland, which celebrates new transport routes opening up the destination for new development possibilities.

The mood at the trade show was elated as many people were travelling for the first time since Covid-19. Around 3,400 meetings, tours and experiences, an opening party held at the Blue Lagoon and a raucous closing dinner kept the conference buzzing throughout. As Guðmundsdóttir puts it: “Last year, we did the first ever virtual version of this, and we had 1,300 meetings. But that doesn’t replace the face-to-face, meeting people to sit together, talk, but also informally, to get together…. So that’s also another aspect of why this is so important. We were very happy that we were able to do in- person.”

It is still too early to see how the industry will change and recover as we enter the post-pandemic world, but feelings are optimistic – with numbers increasing as each market sector opens up and restrictions begin to lift. One trend seems to be a shift towards longer stays and higher spending as consumers seek once-in-a-lifetime experiences and true escapes from the everyday. Added to this, as remote working becomes the norm, travellers will be keen to access destinations for extended stays, with more meaningful and in-depth interactions with locations.

As Guðmundsdóttir concludes: “A lot of people want their travel maybe to mean more, and they’ve been saving up a lot to get to do more things. I think that’s a very positive trend and hopefully that will continue. I think that is more sustainable too. I think people want to get back to normalcy, because I travel is such a joy.”

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For more information on Vestnorden, head over to the official website, or there is more on the North Atlantic Tourism Association here.

Words and images: Sapphire Goss

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