Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Sydney Skies to Light Up Three Times in One Great Night

Master pyrotechnician Fortunato Foti is preparing to inspire Sydneysiders and visitors with his most colourful fireworks displays yet this Sydney New Year's Eve.

Fortunato – a seventh-generation pyrotechnician whose family has been making fireworks since 1793 – has created a series of stunning new colours and shapes for this year's displays, including silver and gold palm trees.

To mark his 15th year involved in the event, multicoloured fireworks and a special red glitter effect will also feature in the displays, which are recognised as one of the largest and most technologically advanced in the world.

A pyrotechnic crew of 45 will launch seven tonnes of fireworks throughout the night – including 11,000 shells, 25,000 shooting comets and over 100,000 individual effects.

A third mini-fireworks display, known as the 'Inspire moment', will also feature at 10.40pm to keep crowds entertained during the countdown to midnight.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said 1.6 million people were expected to gather around the harbour on Wednesday night to enjoy Sydney's world-famous fireworks displays.

“For 15 years now, Fortunato Foti and his crew at Foti Fireworks have made Sydney New Year's Eve a night to remember with their imaginative, innovative fireworks displays,” the Lord Mayor said.

“This year's celebration promises to be just as spectacular, with new colours, shapes and a special 90-second show at 10.40pm that will build anticipation before the main event at midnight.”

Over the years, Fortunato and his crew have created dozens of original fireworks for Sydney New Year's Eve, including shells in the shape of hands, musical notes, koalas, bees and birds.

Fortunato said his lifelong passion for fireworks means he is not daunted by the challenge of creating something exciting and new each year.

“We started working on Sydney New Year's Eve back in 2000, and we quickly learnt what works best – and what doesn't work so well – for a show of this size and scale,” Fortunato said.

“We've reached a point now where each year we walk away thinking 'that was the best show we've ever done' – and that just spurs us on to do even better the following year.

“This year we've focused on making the displays as colourful as possible – you'll see a lot of metallics, as well as bright reds, greens, blues and purples – and some fun new shapes, including palm trees with shimmering centres and multicoloured ends.

“The displays will also have a lot of variety – because they're synchronised to a specially curated soundtrack, the fireworks change as frequently as the music does, keeping audiences entertained and surprised.

“For us, fireworks are truly inspirational, so we hope that the displays reflect our love and passion, and that they inspire everyone watching – both around the harbour and across Australia and worldwide.”

For more information, visit sydneynewyearseve.com

Da Nang attracts visitors with activities to welcome New Year 2015

(TITC) - Welcoming New Year 2015, Da Nang City will organize many culture, art and sports activities to serve local people and visitors.

The most special activity is “I love Da Nang – Welcome New Year 2015” program held at 21h00 of 31 December 2014 in 29/3 Square. Attending the program, visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy a monumental music program, with the highlight is countdown to welcome New Year 2015.

Besides, many other attractive activities also take place such as showing films in Le Do Cinema (Hai Chau District), remote communes, armed units, schools in the city (from 24 December 2014 to 2 January 2015); street music program in Bach Dang Street (in the evening of 30 December 2014); art program on Lunar New Year's Eve in the east bank of Han River Bridge (18 February 2015); Arts Talent Contest with the theme “Spring and Youth” at Spring Flower Festival in 29/3 Park (on the 6th day of the first lunar month or 24 February 2015); photo exhibition with the theme “Da Nang – New Height” in Da Nang Museum…

In addition, from now to the end of February 2015, in districts of Da Nang City, many specific festivals will be organized such as: Cau Ngu Festival, Tuy Loan Village Communal House Festival, Bo Ban Village Communal House Festival; Arts Talent Contest of Hoa Vang District; Yen River bai choi singing… and a lot of traditional sports activities (contests of table-tennis, football, chess…)

On this occasion, many amusement sites (Ba Na Hills Resort, Son Tra Peninsula, Asia Park...) and also hotels, trade centres in the city are decorated splendidly to serve local people and visitors. In particular, most 4 and 5-star hotels and resorts (Furama Danang, Crowne Plaza Danang, Hyatt Regency Danang Resort & Spa...) will hold parties to welcome New Year in the evening of 31 December 2014. The other hotels also offer many promotional packages to attract tourists.

With diversified activities, Da Nang City is expected to welcome more than 105,500 tourist arrivals at the end of 2014, an increase of 32% compared to the same period last year. Of which, international tourists is about 59,800 arrivals, up 30% over the same period; domestic tourists is estimated 45,700 trips, increase 34.5% compared with the same period.

Hotel Boom in China: New Hotel Openings & Many More in Development

The hotel industry in China is booming, with many top hotel projects in the pipeline.

TOPHOTELPROJECTS, a leading provider of hotel data, reports that there are 544 first class and luxury hotels with 164,400 rooms in development in China currently. 

New hotels are in the works in Beijing and Shanghai of course, as well as in other Chinese cities including Changsha, Chengdu, and on the Chinese tropical island of Hainan. 

One such hotel is the Sanya Marriott Hotel Dadonghai Bay, Marriott’s third hotel in Hainan. The 458-room resort hotel overlooks Sanya’s picturesque mountain, ocean and beach, nestled among tropical gardens. 

Known as the “Hawaii of China,” Sanya is China’s most popular tropical resort destination, with its idyllic year-round climate and the many incredible hotels, temples, parks and shopping nearby. 

In Mainland China, one of the most recent hotels to open is the Four Points by Sheraton Guilin, which is located in Lingui in Guilin’s new business district. 

The 242-room hotel is ideal for business or leisure travel, and marks Sheraton’s entry into the Guangxi region of southern China, as well as expanding the number of Sheraton properties in China to 23 hotels. 

For more information on the Four Points Guilin, click here; for information on the Sanya Marriott Hotel Dadonghai Bay, click here.

Qatar Airways becomes first airline to operate every family of Airbus’ modern airliner portfolio

Qatar Airways wrote another page of history as its – and the world’s – first Airbus A350 XWB (Xtra Wide Body) and its fourth A380 arrived in Doha simultaneously, allowing the airline to further capitalise on its rapid expansion plans.

The delivery of the newest members of Qatar Airways’ fleet of 146 aircraft are the first of 80 A350s and the fourth of 13 A380s on order and mark yet another major 2014 milestone for the five-star airline. The A350 aircraft, for which Qatar Airways is the global launch customer, is set to commence service on the Doha–Frankfurt route starting in January 2015.

The world’s first A350 XWB aircraft to be delivered flew to Doha from France, following the handover ceremony and press conference which were attended by Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, senior Airbus and Rolls Royce officials, and more than 150 international media in Toulouse.

With the delivery of the A350 XWB aircraft, Qatar Airways becomes the first airline in the world to operate every family of Airbus’ modern airliner portfolio, comprising the A320, A330, A340, A350 and A380.

After acquiring the A380 earlier this year, the addition of the A350 XWB aircraft is the second significant fleet milestone for Qatar Airways in 2014. The A350 XWB features the very latest in aerodynamics, design and advanced technologies and will set new standards in passenger experience, operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Welcoming the arrival of Qatar Airways’ first A350 XWB aircraft and its latest A380 in Doha, Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker said: “We take immense pride in taking delivery of two aircraft at the same time joining our modern and dynamic fleet that is connecting the world. As 2015 commences, we are looking forward to a new period of enhanced growth with our fleet setting fresh benchmarks for the aviation industry.

“The A350 XWB, in combination with the recently-introduced A380, will offer unprecedented levels of interoperability and a highly efficient solution to meet long-haul passenger demand on the rapidly expanding Qatar Airways’ network. This will further strengthen our leadership position as a world-class airline providing customers with a premium five-star travel experience, exceptional hospitality and seamless connectivity around the globe.”

Qatar Airways A350 XWB powered by two new-generation Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines is a perfect combination of innovative airline product design, environmental advances and the intrinsic comfort of an entirely new cabin set-up which are the hallmarks of this aircraft.

Passengers will benefit from a new boarding experience achieved by a unique dome-design entrance with welcome light distribution. The aircraft also offers wide seats with generous room in all classes of service thanks to a number of design developments offering greater comfort to all passengers.

The Business Class cabin has 36 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration featuring an 80” full flat bed and 17” HD in-flight entertainment screen and a spacious inflight bar. The Economy Class features 247 18-inch wide seats in a 3-3-3 configuration, each with a 10.6” in-flight entertainment screen, and more space at shoulder level for passengers in window seats due to the vertical side wall panel design.

Qatar Airways A350 XWB features the-state-of-the art Oryx entertainment system, with more than 1,000 entertainment options on individual screens in all classes. The jet also offers advanced air conditioning technology and LED mood lighting to enhance the comfort of passengers while reducing fatigue after a long flight. In addition, the jet will also offer in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity for all passengers allowing them to surf the web on the go.

Qatar Airways is one of the fastest growing airlines operating one of the youngest fleets in the world. Now in its 17th year of operations, Qatar Airways has a modern fleet of 146 aircraft flying to 146 key business and leisure destinations across six continents.

Scottish tourism excelled in 2014 riding international uptick in sector

Scotland has had fascinating year for tourism as international tourism hit a world record. Across Scotland, hotel revenue was driven by outstanding performances in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen during September said the latest report by accountants and business advisers, BDO LLP.

During the first ten months of 2014, the number of international tourists grew by 5% according to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, rising above expectations. Between January and October 2014, the volume of international tourists (overnight visitors) reached 978 million, 45 million more than in the same period of 2013. With an increase of 4.7%, international tourism continues to grow well above the long-term trend projected by UNWTO for the period 2010-2020 (+3.8%), and is set to end the year at over 1.1 billion.

The monthly hotel survey found that year-on-year revenue – or rooms yield – rose 27.2% in Edinburgh to £98.47, by 35.1% in Glasgow to £73.19 and, although falling by 5.9% in Aberdeen the city recorded revenues of £80.95 which was the second highest figure outside London.

Inverness also experienced an 11.2% rise to £56.91 while Aberdeen revenue fell 5.9% to £80.95.

Occupancy rose across Scotland lead by Edinburgh at 93.0%; Glasgow on 90.9%; Inverness on 90.0% and Aberdeen on 85.0%.

The strongest growth region was the Americas (+8%), followed by Asia and the Pacific (+5%) and Europe (+4%). By sub-region, North America (+9%) and South Asia (+8%) were the star performers, as well as Southern and Mediterranean Europe, North-East Asia and Northern Europe (all +7%).

“In view of this trend, international tourism is set to end 2014 with record numbers”, said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai. “These are remarkable results considering that different parts of the world continue to face significant geopolitical and health challenges, while the global economic recovery remains rather fragile and uneven”, he added.

In Scotland, Edinburgh’s revenue boost was driven by the end of the Festivals and several conferences including Eurotox 2014; ESLCCC 2014; and the World Congress on Cancers of the Skin. Glasgow continued its strong summer after the Commonwealth Games with more than 8,000 delegates attracted to the ECPR 2014 Conference and the CIRSE congress.

Despite Aberdeen experiencing a fall in revenue it still had a rooms yield of £80.95 which made it the second highest performer in the UK outside London. However, the decline in revenue in Aberdeen may be an early indication of a reduction in demand as the oil price continues to fall.

Internationally, Europe, the most visited region in the world, posted a 4% increase in international tourist arrivals through October, with strong results in Northern Europe and Southern Mediterranean Europe (both +7%), where established destinations such as Greece, Portugal, Spain and Malta recorded healthy growth.

Farming tours attract many visitors to Da Lat city

Da Lat, city of flowers, has offered unique entertainment farming and agri-tourism to visitors, attracting more and more tourists to the Vietnam city, the Nhan Dan (People) online newspaper reported.

According to the newspaper, agri-tourists can choose a wide range of activities that include learning about flower growing techniques, picking fruits and vegetables, shopping in farm gift shops and farm stands for local produce or hand crafted-gifts.

Da Lat’s farmers have shifted from their traditional method of growing strawberries in rows in the ground to a new model of hanging strawberry gardens. The Biofresh Company is a pioneer in this model and its strawberry farm next to the Lake of Sighs has become a not-to miss destination for tourists to Da Lat.

The strawberry farm model is being multiplied in Da Lat. Vuong Dinh Phi’s strawberry garden at Thanh Mau street is one of the first gardens in Da Lat to welcome visitors and offer picking fruit service.

Phi shared that the 3,000 square metres did not meet the increasing demand of visitors, for this reason, his family planned to enlarge the garden’s area to 60,000 square metres.

In addition to strawberries, the visitors can also visit high-tech vegetable gardens such Mai Van Khan’s garden. He said that offering high-quality and clean products to consumers helps popular his brand name. Currently, the brand name ‘Mr. Khan Vegetable’ has conquered markets in Ho Chi Minh City , Ha Noi and Da Nang with output of over 1.5 tonnes per day and a turnover of 3 billion VND per year.

Called the “City of Flowers”, the flower is considered a key tourism product of the city. Located in Ward 12, around 7km from Da Lat’s centre, Thai Phien Flower Village is a display of thousands of flowers. Ho Ngoc Dinh, Farmers' Association Chairman of Ward 12, Da Lat, said that Thai Phien Flower Village has over 230 ha glasshouses planting daisy, lily and eustoma.

He noted that Thai Phien is recognised as a “traditional trade village” with 900 different flower species.

Since the start of the year, thousands of domestic and international visitors have visited the flower village to learn about farming experiences.

With the friendly production model, the gardens not only bring economic benefits to growers but also contribute to tourism development in the province.

Nguyen Thi Bich Ngoc, Deputy Director of the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said in the coming time, the province will help owners of gardens improve their businesses and expand farming tourism to neighbouring regions.

According to Vu Van Tu, Director of the Lam Dong Investment, Trade and Tourism Promotion Centre, more support will be provided to local farmers to help them solve current problems, including a lack of professional tourism skills, thus expanding the promising agro-tourism model.

The province is now paying more attention to investing in science and technology.

Lam Dong province currently has 39,000 hectares of high-tech agricultural fields, accounting for 15 percent of the province’s total cultivated area. The high-tech agricultural fields have helped earning between 250 million VND and 1.2 billion VND per hectare per year.

Fringe World 2015 launches

This summer the temperature in Perth is set to soar, with Fringe World delivering the most diverse and spectacular line-up to date. 

The 2015 festival program is out, inviting visitors from near and far to make the most of 31 days of 'Perthect' entertainment. 

The program features more than 500 events at 100 venues in Perth City and surrounds, with local, national and international talent showcasing an amazing array of WA, Australian and world premieres. 

Highlights of the festival include an expanded Pleasure Garden at Russell Square with an extra spiegeltent; a fleet of rickshaws connecting the two main Fringe World hubs; The State Theatre Centre will join the pop-up scene with a new courtyard comedy tent; and giant pink bunny sculptures by street artist Stormie Mills at Brookfield Place. 

The four week festival will run from January 23 to February 22, overlapping with thePerth International Arts Festival. 

An increase in crowds is expected, surpassing last year's count of 370,000 people who attended the summer festival.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

VISA PROCESS STREAMLINED FOR CHINESE VISITORS

Chinese visitors to NSW will find applying for a visa easier than ever before, with the commencement of a new pilot program aimed at streamlining the application process through an online system.

Announced by the Australian Government this week, the initiative is aimed at capturing the ever-increasing Chinese tourist market, which is the number one source market for visitors to NSW.

The online visa pilot program joins other measures by the Australian Government to better meet the needs of the Chinese visitor market, including the introduction in February of three-year multiple entry visas for Chinese business travellers and the upcoming trial of SmartGate for Chinese e-Passport holders, which will give visitors from China access to automated border processing systems, fast-tracking their arrival into Australia. Following recent negotiations, Australia will also grant visas for up to 5,000 Chinese work and holiday makers every year.

Americans Optimistic That 2015 Will Be Better Than 2014; Survey Reveals

The Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment, co-organizers of Times Square New Year’s Eve, along with the Associated Press recently unveiled the results of the second annual AP-Times Square New Year’s Eve poll. The poll highlighted the public’s expectations for the New Year and captured their opinions about the most important news stories and most memorable pop culture moments of 2014.

The poll showed that many Americans are optimistic that 2015 will be a better year for them, personally, than 2014. 48 percent of the participants responded that 2015 will be a better year than 2014, compared with only 11 percent who thought 2015 will be worse. Reflecting on the year they’ve just been through, 34 percent think 2014 was better than 2013, 15 percent say it was worse and 50 percent say there was no difference.

On New Year’s Eve, 61 percent of Americans, or approximately 194 million people, will watch the Times Square New Year’s Eve Celebration, including two-thirds of women (66 percent) and over half of men (55 percent).

The survey also highlighted the public’s take on the most important news and pop culture stories of the year. When asked to rate the importance of 10 top news stories, 54 percent of Americans said that “the Islamic State militants gain territory in Iraq and Syria, behead hostages; US and allies respond with air strikes” was a “very” or “extremely important” news story. Ebola ranked nearly as high, with 53 percent of people naming it as a “very” or “extremely” important story. The U.S. elections – Republican Senate takeover and Immigration were also near the top at 52 percent and 47 percent, respectively.

Unlike in 2013, when the implementation of the 2010 health care law was named by a quarter of Americans as the most important event in that year, no single event stood out to Americans as the biggest of 2014. When asked to name what was the most important news story of 2014, without a pre-determined list, about 1 in 10 Americans named each of three major events – the rise of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and the subsequent U.S. response (11 percent), the deaths of black men including Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police that sparked protests across the country (10 percent) and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that led to cases in the United States (9 percent).

“It’s striking to see that even though the top news stories were about topics like Ebola, ISIS, and racial tensions, more people are optimistic than pessimistic about the year to come,” said Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance. “New Year’s Eve has always been a time to reflect on the challenges of the year past, but also an opportunity to start anew with hope.”

“From the more than 190 million American viewers, to the million revelers attending in person, to the billions watching across the globe, Times Square is where the world rings in the New Year,” said Jeffrey Straus, President of Countdown Entertainment. “We are honored to share in the joy, celebration, and hope that 2015 is expected to bring to so many.”

Most Americans plan to celebrate New Year’s Eve this year either at home (48 percent) or at the home of a friend or family member (20 percent). Another 8 percent plan to celebrate at a bar, restaurant or organized event.

The number of people expected to watch the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball Drop online or on a mobile device grew to 3 percent this year.

Americans overwhelmingly viewed the suicide of Robin Williams and subsequent increase in discussion of mental health issues and addiction, as the most memorable pop culture moment of 2014. Placing second and third respectively were the decision by CVS to stop selling cigarettes and the Ice-Bucket Challenge phenomenon.

The complete breakdown of responses to ten of the top pop culture events of 2014, in order of those who responded either “very” or “somewhat memorable” with percentages in parentheses:
  1. Actor Robin Williams commits suicide, prompting increased discussion of mental health issues and addiction (64 percent)
  2. CVS stops selling cigarettes (39 percent)
  3. Millions participate in the “ice-bucket challenge,” posting videos on social media of themselves dumping ice water on their heads and raising money for charity (37 percent)
  4. Mo’ne Davis becomes first female pitcher to win a Little League World Series game, lands cover of Sports Illustrated (30 percent)
  5. Michael Sam becomes first openly gay player drafted by NFL (21 percent)
  6. Celebrity photos hacked: Private photos from Jennifer Lawrence, other celebrities stolen and posted online by Reddit user (14 percent)
  7. Ellen DeGeneres’s selfie at the Oscars becomes most retweeted Tweet of all time (13 percent)
  8. Taylor Swift goes pop, moves to New York City and becomes New York City’s “Global Welcome Ambassador” (10 percent)
  9. George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin get married (10 percent)
  10. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West get married (8 percent)

Tourism Tasmania – Positive tourism outlook for 2015

The southern tourism industry is tonight gathered at Blundstone Arena to celebrate what has been a phenomenal year for the industry.

Ten of millions of eyes were focused on Tasmania during the recent visit by the Chinese President, this followed global exposure from the Restaurant Australia grand finale at MONA, which along with Tasmania’s top four ranking by Lonely Planet this year means internationally our state is the must-visit destination everyone is talking about.

Our task for 2015 and beyond is to build on this momentum.

Over summer there are a wide range of world class events which will attract even more visitors to our shores including the Taste of Tasmania, 70th Rolex Sydney-Hobart, Falls Festival, Moorilla Hobart International, MONA FOMA and the Wooden Boat Festival.

While in March, world-class cricket action arrives at Blundstone Arena with three ICC Cricket World Cup games being held at the venue. Having a huge broadcast reach, this event will again have the eyes of the world focussed on Tasmania.

Destination Southern Tasmania and the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania have a key role to play in the further development and growth of tourism in Tasmania, as does the government.

We recognise tourism is a competitive strength for Tasmania. That is why the Liberal Government is investing an additional $16 million over four years into tourism marketing, supporting new experiences like the Three Capes Track, and opening up our wilderness areas to sensible tourism development.

These important initiatives will assist us to achieve our target of attracting 1.5 million visitors to Tasmania each year by 2020, which the industry says represents 8000 jobs.

Bring in the New Year in Sydney Style

Sydney has long been on the list for travellers across the world as the place to be to bring in the New Year and with good reason. With the world's most spectacular fireworks display on offer and a range of exciting experiences to be a part of, there's no better place to start off the year.

The action also doesn't stop when the sun rises with a host of activities and events across a range of iconic Sydney venues on New Year's Day offering plenty more fun up for grabs.

New Year's Eve – Vantage points

The beauty of Sydney is that you can catch a great view of the fireworks from plenty of spots around the Harbour.

Here are just a few of the best vantage points – but get there early before they fill up! For a full list visit www.sydneynewyearseve.com

Mrs Macquaries Point

1 Mrs Macquaries Road, Sydney
Opening times:10.00am 31 December to 12.30am 1 January
Mrs Macquaries Point is one of the more popular viewing spots for New Year's Eve as it provides fantastic views of the New Year's Eve Fireworks Display. This vantage point also offers catering and bar services available for purchase.

North Head

North Head, Sydney Harbour National Park
Opening times: 5.00pm 31 Dec to 12.30am 1 Jan
While this site might not have an up close view of the fireworks, North Head, situated in Manly on the northern most edge of Sydney Harbour, has the advantage of being set away from the city crowds, offering a spectacular panorama of the Harbour and Sydney skyline.

Pirrama Park

Harris St, Pyrmont
Opening times: 2.00pm 31 Dec to 1.00am 1 Jan
This family friendly vantage point offers great views of the western side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Harbour and features fully licensed bars and temporary food vending operators in operation from midday until 1.00am.

Tarpeian Precinct (Macquarie Street Lawns)

Located off Macquarie Street, Sydney
Opening times: 10.00am 31 Dec to 12.30am 1 Jan
Tarpeian Precinct, adjacent to the Sydney Opera House, has wonderful views of Sydney Harbour and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, offering a fine vantage point for viewing the New Year's Eve fireworks display.

Bradfield Park, Milsons Point

Alfred Street, North Sydney
Opening times: 12.00pm 31 Dec to 12.15am 1 Jan
Bradfield Park is a popular site for families, which offers views from the eastern side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It's one of the best views looking onto impressive scenes of both the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Campbell's Cove

Hickson Rd, Sydney
Opening times: 8.00am 31 Dec to 2.00am 1 Jan
Campbell's Cove is located east of The Rocks and north of the Overseas Passenger Terminal and offers good views of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. Crowds arrive early as the area usually closes to new arrivals at around 4.00pm.

Sydney Opera House

Bennelong Point, Circular Quay
Opening times: 7.30am 31 Dec to 2.00am 1 Jan
To nab a spot at this iconic spot it's best to arrive as early as possible as the Sydney Opera House reaches capacity early in the day. Food and drinks are available for purchase onsite.

Blues Point Reserve, McMahons Point

Blues Point Road, McMahons Point
Opening times: 12.00pm 31 Dec to 1.00am 1 Jan
Blues Point Reserve is a fantastic and popular location to catch all the New Year's Eve action. Making an afternoon of it is a must. See the western side of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the skies above light up!

Luxe New Year's Eve

For those that want a luxe experience, here are just a few ideas:

Luxe New Year's Eve

For a 'ferry good view' of the fireworks, hop on an iconic Sydney Harbour Ferry for a front row seat of all the firework action. Launched for the first time this year, guests can sit back and relax as they cruise around Sydney Harbour before catching the 9am and midnight fireworks from the middle of Sydney Harbour, off Bradley's Head. Ferries depart from Manly, Meadowbank, Circular Quay or Rose Bay wharves and guests can pack a picnic to enjoy on-board.
Tickets: From $125 and kids under 3 are free

New Year's Eve Under the Stars

This year sees the launch of the inaugural New Year's Eve Under the Stars at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Ticket holders enjoy a prime vantage point on the lawn adjacent to Bennelong, Tarpiean Way with uninterrupted views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. Tickets include a premium all-inclusive food and beverage package from 7pm until midnight by renowned Sydney catering company, Trippas White Group.
Tickets: $395 per person.
For more information: http://www.nyeunderthestars.com.au/

Botanic Gardens Restaurant

Fine dining and great views will go hand in hand at the Botanic Gardens Restaurant, which is offering an indulgent 7-course degustation including champagne on arrival, whilst taking in both the 9pm and midnight fireworks on a harbour-front lawn. A live band will keep the party and dance floor going from 7pm – 1am.
Tickets: at $500 per person (adults only)
For bookings phone 02 9241 2419
For more information: www.botanicrestaurant.com.au/

Shangri-La Sydney

There are a few options to welcome the New Year in prime position, 36 levels above the famous fireworks display in Sydney Harbour. For the family, why not indulge in a midnight fireworks buffet, including a diverse selection of global delights, succulent seafood, desserts, premium sparkling and still wines and beers.
Tickets: $325 per adult and $125 per child
For more information: www.shangri-la.com/sydney/

New Year's Day

Post New Year's Eve, there's plenty to love about Sydney's dining and bar scene on New Year's Day. For something a little extra special here's a few tips:

Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, Watsons Bay

Welcome the New Year on the beachfront at Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel as you listen to summer sounds by Mr Glass, Matt Sav and Yolanda. Complimentary cocktail on arrival and beverages from 12pm – 3pm plus an array of mouth-watering canapés will be on offer on the Top Deck of Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel.
Tickets: $195.00
For more information visit: www.watsonsbayhotel.com.au

Field Day, The Domain Sydney

Set on the first day of the year at The Domain, Field Day is the city's most popular boutique music festival, mixing hip-hop, house, indie and electronic music artists from around the world. For young Sydneysiders, Field Day is the ultimate party to welcome in the New Year.
Tickets: $138.00
For more information visit: www.fielddaynyd.com.au 

Daniel San, Manly
Spend a recovery session by the beach on the rooftop at Daniel San and enjoy the best views in Manly listening to the beats from Yolanda by Cool along with some of Sydney's hottest DJ's and talent.Tickets: $40.00For more information visit: www.danielsan.com.au

For more information go to Sydney.com

Viet Nam among top 40 World's Best Beach Resorts

Nam Hai Resort
Conde Nast Traveler, one of the world's premier luxury and lifestyle travel magazines, has cited three famous resorts in Viet Nam’s central region as top 40 of World's Best Beach Resorts: Readers' Choice 2014.

Accordingly, Hyatt Regency Danang ranked 15th in the list which was selected by the magazine’s readers.

“A 50-acre resort on an unspoiled beach fronting the famed Marble Mountains along Viet Nam's central coast (15 minutes from the international airport). Cool, modern rooms all have balconies, most with sea views over low-rise rooftops”, says Conde Nast Traveler.

The 25th place was taken by Nam Hai Resort located on Ha My Beach, Hoi An City.

According to the magazine, striking architecture of the all-villa resort was inspired by the grand royal tomb of the 19th-century Emperor Tu Duc in nearby Hue.

“A fascinating, private ‘Follow the Chef’ tour of local food markets in historic Hoi An, the resort's own organic garden, and Vietnamese cooking class at The Beach Restaurant.”

Victoria Hoi An Beach won the 34th place with Readers' Rating of 89.683.

Conde Nast Traveler noted that just only 5 kilometres from the UNESCO World Heritage Site city of Hoi An, this resort was built to replicate a traditional Vietnamese fishing village.

“Tour the town, early morning fish markets, and surrounding countryside in quirky, chauffeur-driven sidecars or on complimentary mountain bikes”, it said.

Top five World's Best Beach Resorts included The Mulia, Bali of Indonesia, Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island of Australia, Viceroy Riviera Maya of Mexico, Qualia, Great Barrier Reef of Australia, and Jade Mountain of St. Lucia.

WA designer scores major coup

Local designer Jamie Lee Major can add another A-list celebrity to her list of star clients, with US pop star Katy Perry selecting to wear a Jamie Lee outfit to the 2014 ARIA Awards. 

The hand-beaded creation made of lace, onyx crystal beads and patent leather, took Major approximately 400 hours to create. 

Perry recently kicked off her Australian tour in WA, and was spotted enjoying time in the State's Margaret River wine region following a sold-out concert at Perth Arena.

Website: jaimelee.com.au

Monday, 29 December 2014

Cruise Whitsundays Cleans Up At Queensland Tourism Awards

Nick Hortle
Cruise Whitsundays has lead the way for Whitsundays operators who cleaned up at Friday night’s Queensland Tourism Awards with 11 awards, the region claiming the third largest haul in the state.

Taking home the region’s only two GOLD awards, Cruise Whitsundays Chief Executive Officer Nick Hortle said he was proud and privileged to work in the state’s most beautiful destination.

“The Whitsundays is a relatively small region but we are home to the global icons of the Great Barrier Reef, stunning tropical islands and Whitehaven Beach and it’s a privilege that Cruise Whitsundays can take guests from all over the world to these icons everyday,” Mr Hortle said.

“Cruise Whitsundays has been through a significant time of change in the past two years since we acquired Fantasea’s operations which doubled our operations overnight,” he said.
“We’ve had our heads down focusing on getting all those changes bedded down, as well as innovating several of our products, notably the introduction of sleeping under the stars in swags at Reefsleep and the $15m investment in the purpose built Port of Airlie Maritime Terminal,”
“So for the judges to award us these honours is a huge achievement for our team and I want to thank every single staff member from the front line crew on the boats to the office based staff, senior management and owners for their commitment to ensuring Cruise Whitsundays is an industry leader.”

Cruise Whitsundays was awarded Queensland’s best Major Tour and/or Transport Operator, beating Cairns-based Quicksilver and Queensland Rail’s Spirit of Queensland who were awarded Silver and Bronze respectively.

The Great Barrier ‘Reefsleep’ operated by Cruise Whitsundays was awarded Queensland’s most unique accommodation.

“Throughout our everyday transfer services and range of 18 day cruises, we carry the vast majority of visitors to the Whitsundays, as well as offer a vital service for a large number of locals travelling and working on the Whitsunday Islands,” Mr Hortle said.

“If we were an airport we’d be in the top 20 busiest in Australia!”

“But then on the other end of the scale, each night we offer the Reefsleep experience, an intimate opportunity to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef overnight for small numbers of guests up to a maximum of 14 per night,”

“In late 2013 we significantly changed the product offering at Reefsleep by introducing the opportunity to sleep under the stars in swags on the top deck of the reef pontoon,”

“This has turned an already unique experience into a truly extraordinary experience, adding a classic Aussie touch for our international guests,”

“As a result we have seen demand for the Reefsleep product surge and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,”

“I’d like to take the opportunity to congratulate our fellow Whitsundays operators who took home another 9 silver and bronze awards amongst them – it is a sign of a very healthy region offering amazing experiences,”

“In particular it is a credit to our region that Whitsunday Escape was awarded Bronze in the unique accommodation category – proving that guests looking for unique Queensland experiences should come to the Whitsundays!”

Cruise Whitsundays Contact

If calling from overseas: +61 7 4846 7000
If calling from Australia: 07 4846 7000
Email: info@cruisewhitsundays.com

Queensland Rail to bid farewell to Sunlander train and welcome a new era in rail travel

Rail customers and enthusiasts are being encouraged to join in the celebrations to farewell the iconic Sunlander train and welcome a new era in rail travel this New Year’s Eve.

Queensland Rail Executive General Manager Travel and Tourist Martin Ryan said Roma Street and Cairns stations would host farewell celebrations as the Sunlander departs on her final return journey along the Queensland coast.

“The Sunlander has serviced Queenslanders for more than 61 years with more than 3.5 million passenger journeys recorded over her time,” Mr Ryan said.

“On the final departure from Cairns station on Wednesday 31 December, the Sunlander will receive a special send-off into retirement.

“We welcome past customers and rail enthusiasts to come on down to these celebrations and join in farewelling this Queensland icon.

“If you are not able to make it to either of these stations, we have three Sunlander departures remaining this month, with two from Cairns and one from Brisbane. We encourage everyone to say their farewells as she passes by a station near you.”

Mr Ryan said the retirement of the Sunlander would mark a new era in long distance rail travel with the third and final Spirit of Queensland Tilt Train now in service.

“The Spirit of Queensland is about people celebrating this fantastic state of ours while enjoying the great service onboard,” Mr Ryan said.

“Customers can sit in the comfort of a single or a pairing seat that can be made into a modern lie-flat rail bed, the first in Australia. The Spirit of Queensland also offers state-of-the-art personal entertainment systems with on-demand movies and music, as well as powerpoint, USB port and other in-seat special touches.

“Customers can enjoy the freshest local Queensland cuisine sourced within 100 kilometres of the track, all while travelling up to 160 kilometres per hour and arriving at their destination now in a day.

“With the introduction of the Spirit of Queensland to our fleet we have increased long distance services from four to five journeys per week between Cairns and Brisbane. This is part of our commitment to connect communities, make regional rail travel more accessible, and support tourism in regional Queensland.”

Customers can share their stories and photos online by hashtagging “#FarewelltheSunlander”.

8 best places to celebrate the last night of 2014 in USA

1. FIRST NIGHT BOSTON 2015, MASSACHUSETTS

From: – Dec 31, 2014 – Jan 1, 2015
Each year from 1:00 p.m. to midnight on December 31, nearly one-million people gather in downtown Boston for a celebration that showcases over 1,000 artists in 200 performances and events at over two-dozen indoor and outdoor venues. First Night Boston features an afternoon Family Festival at the Hynes Convention Center, a Grand Procession parade that sweeps down Boylston Street, colossal ice sculptures that dot the city’s landscape, and a dazzling fireworks display to welcome the New Year.

2. NEW YEAR’S EVE FIREWORKS AT NAVY PIER, CHICAGO

On: – 31st December 2014
Celebrate New Year’s Eve at Navy Pier! From Chicago’s only lakefront midnight fireworks show to the biggest and best parties in the city in the historic Grand Ballroom and Crystal Gardens as well as dining cruises featuring entertainment and champagne toasts, you want to ring in the New Year at Navy Pier! Plan your night here.

3. PEACH DROP 2015 – SAVE THE DATE, ATLANTA

On: – 31st December 2014
Start 2015 off right at the Southeast’s largest New Year’s Eve gathering! With an expected 175,000 patrons to crowd the streets around Underground Atlanta, the 26th Annual Peach Drop New Year’s Eve Celebration is one you won’t want to miss! Since its inaugural year in 1989, the Peach Drop still proves to be a favorite Atlanta tradition and a nationally recognized New Year’s Eve staple. As day turns into night, Downtown Atlanta will fill with the sights and sounds of those ready to ring in the New Year.

4. NEW YEAR’S EVE IN MUSIC CITY, Nashville

Music City’s New Year’s Eve Bash on Broadway has grown into one of the best New Year’s Eve parties in the world. It’s a free party where you can ring in the New Year with amazing music and thousands of your closest friends. And with a star-packed lineup that includes Lady Antebellum, Gavin DeGraw, The Apache Relay, and Kristen Capolino – it’s sure to be the best New Year’s Eve celebration around. More people, more music, and more fun every year. We expect nothing less for the 2014 #NashvilleNYE party. Join us! Make your plans now to ring in the New Year with Nashville.

5. NEW YEAR’S EVE ON THE HISTORICAL BEALE STREET, MEMPHIS

On: – December 31, 2014
Thirteen bands will be rocking Handy Park beginning at 5 p.m and well into the night. You won’t want to miss the the giant 10-foot Gibson guitar drop at Hard Rock Cafe and the fireworks show at midnight. One of the day’s earlier events features the invitation to Bury Your Blues, whereby locals and visitors are asked to bring any of their “blues” and throw them into an open coffin on Beale Street. This unique aspect reflects the “making a new start” in the New Year.

6. 31st ANNUAL CIRCLE K NEW YEAR’S EVE BLOCK PARTY ON MILL AVENUE, ARIZONA

On: – December 31, 2014
This December 31, Tempe will be transformed into the ultimate celebration for the Circle K New Year’s Eve Block Party on Mill Avenue. This New Year’s Eve event will bring impressive high-energy video dance clubs to the streets creating a party like never seen before.
Venue: – 310 S. Mill Avenue, Tempe, AZ 85281

7. New Year’s Eve Celebration: Torchlight Parade, Fireworks & Music, COLORADO

From: – December 31, 2014 – January 1, 2015
Usher in the New Year with a fireworks display overhead as the Torchlight Parade winds its way down the slopes. Families can celebrate the New Year with a “Ball Drop” at 10pm MST at Paradise Pizzeria & Ice Creamery. Those 21+ can enjoy live music & libations at Purgy’s Slopeside.
Venue:- #1 Skier Place, Durango, CO 81301

8. EVE Winter Fest, Utah 

From: – December 29, 2014 – December 31, 2014
Salt Lake City comes to life with EVE Winter Fest, a three-day celebration with concerts, DJs, grown-up drinks and engaging activities for kids and families. Discover everything that downtown has to offer with one all-access pass. With twelve venues and over 100 individual events, Eve Winter Fest is jam packed with fun for everyone. Cheer on the Utah Jazz against the Minnesota Timberwolves, skate under the lights at The Gallivan Center, or learn about the universe at the Clark Planetarium Hansen Dome.

Urban beach to Rock Away the summer at Perth Cultural Centre

A 1950s urban beach has been installed in the heart of Perth City, as part of the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority's latest installation, 'Rock Away Beach'. 

More than 45 tonnes of sand have been brought into Perth Cultural Centre to create two beaches – a shaded beach for children, and a relaxing adult's beach in the James Street amphitheatre. 

Throughout the beach season, urban beach goers will be entertained in the evenings with music and movies, while Bar Pop will turn 'Rock Away Beach' into a rocking beach bar.

Escape those balmy summer nights on Wednesdays and Sundays and get along to our Elvis - Rock Away Beach summer screenings. You won't want to miss these classics:
  • Sunday 4 January, 7:30pm: Blue Hawaii (1961)
  • Sunday 11 January, 7:30pm: Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962)
  • Sunday 18 January, 7:30pm: Viva Las Vegas (1964)
Entry to the urban oasis is free, and is open to the public now through to February 1, 2015.

Website: perthculturalcentre.com.au

ABTA’s Travel Trends Report 2015 reveals ‘destinations to watch’

ABTA has released its Travel Trends 2015 Report , developed in association with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The report reveals that consumer confidence is slowly returning to the holiday market with more consumers planning to spend more on their holidays in 2015 than those looking to cut back (20% state they will spend more on holidays and only 15% say they are planning to spend less*). This growth is being led by more affluent holidaymakers with value for money and a desire to maximise holiday experiences dominating the rest of the market.

Key Trends identified in ABTA’s Travel Trends Report 2015 include:

The affluent leave cautious optimism behind

Affluent consumers are breaking away from the cautious optimism that has dominated the market for the last couple of years. Whilst this group remains relatively small, it looks set to drive some growth in the travel industry in 2015. In 2014, people took an average of 3.0 holidays per person, however those in social class ‘A’ took 4.7 holidays per person. This is a marked increase from 2013 when this group took 3.6 holidays per person and is likely to continue into 2015.

Holidays working harder

Seeking value for money, holidaymakers are maximising their expenditure and leisure time combining elements such as events, shows or experiences with their holiday as well as taking multi-centre holidays; challenge holidays and activity holidays. The continued growth of the package holiday is also a key part of this.

Trying somewhere new

British holidaymakers have been playing it safe for the last few years with their holiday choices, but many people are planning to explore new destinations in 2015; over a third (35%) think they will take a holiday to a country they have never been to before.

Living like a local

Living like a local is a key trend across all age groups as people are looking for more authentic holiday experiences and many holiday companies are now offering people the chance to enjoy hidden gems alongside traditional tourist attractions.

Destination celebrations: the rise of the celebration group holiday

The destination celebration has become a real player in the travel market with the desire to commemorate, celebrate and share experiences expected to drive an increased number of group holidays in 2015 such as anniversaries, stag and hen trips and overseas weddings.

No break for city breaks

City breaks overtook beach holidays as the most popular type of holiday in 2014 and are expected to hold the top spot into 2015, with 43% of people planning a city break and 42% planning a beach holiday.

Destinations to watch

ABTA has also identified its ‘Destinations to watch’ for 2015, a mixture of long and short haul destinations that are expected to capture the public’s imagination in 2015:
  • Austria
  • Botswana
  • Cuba
  • Dominican Republic
  • Japan
  • Latvia
  • La Gomera, (Spain)
  • Norway
  • Pacific Coast (USA)
  • Singapore
  • The Netherlands
  • The Peloponnese (Greece)

Mark Tanzer, ABTA Chief Executive said: “We do expect to see the slow but steady signs of recovery that have been characteristic of 2014 continue into next year. We are seeing strong growth from the most affluent end of the market and we expect this to drive interest in luxury and tailor made packages. The rest of the market remains resilient with value for money continuing to be a priority. Holidaymakers want their holiday to work hard for them, whether that’s by offering new experiences, combining different destinations or simply delivering great value.”

In the report country-specific travel advice has been provided by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to ensure Brits travelling abroad next year remain safe.

Michael Vibert, Head of Consular Communications at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: “This year’s ABTA report notes that British nationals will be doing more to make the most of their holidays abroad in the next twelve months. With many travellers set to visit unfamiliar destinations and fit in as many activities as possible, it’s more important than ever to plan and prepare fully.

Most people who travel abroad have a trouble-free trip but things can and do go wrong. Simple steps such as checking the FCO travel advice, taking out comprehensive travel insurance, and researching the country and health risks before you go can help to ensure that your holiday is one to remember for all the right reasons.

Not all consular cases are preventable, and for those British nationals who do run into difficulties the FCO will do all it can to help. For example, we can issue replacement travel documents and provide help to those who have been a victim of crime or are in hospital. However, we cannot pay medical bills, lend money or influence another country’s legal system.”

Aussie stars set for Sydney

Rising Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios (ACT) will start his season at Apia International Sydney 2015, joining fellow home-grown talent Bernard Tomic (QLD) and Samantha Stosur (QLD) at Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre from 11 – 17 January.

After a record breaking season in which he toppled then world No.1 Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios will be seeking his first title at a tournament that has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for Australia’s best.

“I can’t wait to play in Sydney, I think the twilight sessions and the atmosphere that creates will suit my style of play,” said the world No.55.

“I’ve heard great things about Sydney fans and being so close to my home in Canberra I’m looking forward to having that local support. I know many Australian’s have won here before and I’ll be doing my best to add my name to the trophy,” Kyrgios added.

In the women’s draw, Australian No.1 Stosur will start as the local favourite in what promises to be another stacked women’s field. The 30-year-old Queenslander, currently ranked inside the world’s top 20, captured her sixth WTA title last week in Osaka and has great memories of playing in the Sydney event.

“It’s a great tournament and I spend a bit of time there in December practicing so I’m pretty used to the courts and conditions,” Stosur said.

“It’s close to home and it’s a nice chance to play again in Australia in front of a great crowd.”

Joining Kygrios in the men’s draw will be 2013 champion and last year’s finalist Tomic. The Queenslander started 2014 with a bang, returning to the Apia International Sydney final where he went down in front of a record crowd to then world No.5 Juan Martin Del Potro. With injuries on the mend, the 21-year-old is aiming to rise back into the world’s top 30 and add another Sydney title to his resume.

“[Sydney] brings back a lot of memories. This year I was feeling much more confident and managed to get through to the final. It was amazing playing under the feeling of defending your title,” said Tomic.

“I enjoy the city so much, the tournament is very, very good so if I can bring something different this year it would be a huge bonus for me and I’d really like to win it again.”

Securing three of the most popular players in Australian tennis was a massive coup for both the tournament and Sydney tennis fans, said Apia International Sydney Tournament Director Alistair MacDonald.

“We’re thrilled to be able to bring Nick, Bernard and Sam to the Apia International Sydney this summer. Nick is one of the most exciting players on tour at the moment and Bernard obviously has a great history here in Sydney,” said MacDonald.

“Sam loves playing here and this will be her ninth appearance at the tournament. She’s hugely popular with the fans and we’re excited to have her back,” MacDonald added.

“We see every year that Australian’s love watching their local heroes, and these are three of the biggest stars in Australian tennis. Both men’s and women’s fields are shaping up to be as strong as ever and we hope Sydney fans will once again get out and support the Aussies,” MacDonald continued.

The high profile trio of current Aussie stars will be joined by Davis Cup Captain Pat Rafter who will play an exhibition match before the men’s singles final as part of the new Sydney Men’s Legends event. Rafter’s opponent will be announced shortly and is set to make the final night of the event one not to be missed.

Apia International Sydney 2015, proudly supported by Apia in association with Volkswagen, will take place at Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre from 11 to 17 January 2015.

Apia International Sydney single session tickets and series packages are now available.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.ticketek.com.au/sydneyinternational or call 1300 888 104.

Quang Nam takes measures for heritage value preservation

The central province of Quang Nam has taken measures to promote and preserve values of the world heritage sites of My Son Sanctuary and Hoi An Ancient Town.

The province continues to collaborate with relevant agencies, international organisations and scientists to study the Cham architecture in different aspects with a view to restoring the My Son Sanctuary in a scientific and concerted manner, Nguyen Chin, Vice Chairman of the Quang Nam People’s Committee said.

Meanwhile in Hoi An Ancient Town, the province will take appropriate policies for collective and individual owned relics, including the provision of timber for the restoration, Chin told the December 16 conference on preserving and promoting the two UNESCO cultural heritage sites after 15 years getting the world status.

Apart from building special policies on investment and procedures for its preservation works, the province will continue carrying out its international programmes to take advantage of investment and technologies in the effort, he added.

Over the past 15 years, the two heritage sites have been invested 502 billion VND (24 million USD) for preservation works from different sources.

Earlier, the Prime Minister approved plans on preserving and promoting values of the My Son Sanctuary and Hoi An Ancient Town for the 2008-2020 and 2012-2025 periods, respectively.

SYDNEY SURF FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCED FOR JANUARY

Film fans and surfers will merge early next year at the first-ever O’Neill Sydney Surf Film Festival.

NSW Government will be supporting the O’Neill Sydney Surf Film Festival (SSFF), through Destination NSW. The two week Festival will be held in Sydney’s two surfing epicentres, Manly Beach and Bondi Beach, and will take place from January 20, 2015.

NSW Premier and Member for Manly Mike Baird said the NSW Government was pleased to partner with the Sydney Surf Film Festival in its inaugural year.

“We have a vibrant surf culture in NSW and filmmaking has always been an important part of that culture. This festival will showcase the best the surf film genre has to offer,” Mr Baird said.

“This event will no doubt add to the anticipation and excitement in the lead up to the Australian Open of Surfing, which is proudly supported by the NSW Government and will be held at Manly Beach,” he said.

Festival Event Director Nick Stevenson said: “Filmmaking has been at the heart of the surf industry since its inception, with classic films such as Bruce Brown’s ‘The Endless Summer’ to Kai Neville’s ‘Dear Suburbia’. Surf films shape and influence generations of surfers, and part of the vision for establishing the festival was to share a wide and diverse line up of Australian and international films with the public of Sydney.”

After weeks of deliberation, the official selection of films for 2015 was decided by the festival’s screening panel of surf industry personalities including Joel Coleman, Stuart Nettle and Paul Witzig. A line up of satellite events, parties and photographic exhibitions are also included in the festival program, which can be found with ticket information and other details at ssff.com.au.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Prepare to Be Spellbound!

Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney wanting to see the biggest theatre hit of the decade WICKED. The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, which opened in Sydney's Capitol Theatre on September 25, can now book great value accommodation HOT DEALS at Metro Hotel Sydney Central.

Located directly opposite the Capitol Theatre, Metro Hotel Central Sydney is the ideal accommodation choice to see this highly acclaimed production. Awe-inspiring and spectacular, WICKED is the untold story of the witches of OZ. Long before Dorothy dropped in, two other girls meet in the land of OZ. One, born with emerald-green skin, is smart, fiery and misunderstood. The other is beautiful, ambitious and very popular and the story tells how these unlikely friends grow.

Metro Hotel Sydney Central is the perfect accommodation choice for visitors to Sydney, situated right in the heart of Sydney in Pitt Street, five minutes' walk from Central Station (for visitors arriving from the country), with an eclectic mix of restaurants nearby including Chinatown and Thaitown. With popular local attractions such as Paddy's Markets, Queen Victoria Building and Darling Harbour close by, the use of a car would not be necessary. Light rail passes are available from the Hotel Reception and numerous bus routes provide an excellent service to explore other parts of Sydney like Manly, Bondi Beach, Luna Park and North Sydney.

WICKED family HOT DEALS are $225 for two adults and two children in a deluxe double/double room including daily hot breakfast buffet and chocolates on arrival. Packages during December start from $205 and has the same inclusions. The package does not include theatre tickets but these can be purchased on-line or directly from the Capitol Theatre.

To book the WICKED package at Metro Sydney Central, visit www.metrohotels.com or call the toll free reservations on 1800 114 321.

Metro Hotels is the public face of Transmetro Corporation, an Australian owned public company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. The Group currently provides a national accommodation network of properties, with over 1000 rooms in key locations and major cities across Australia.
www.metrohotels.com.au

Cool Things To Do On Fraser Island This Summer

QUEENSLAND: If you're heard of Fraser Island, chances are swimming to Lake McKenzie; a visit to the Maheno Shipwreck and a trek through Central Station are high on your to-do list…but here are three cool experiences that will put a different spin on your summer holiday.
  • LASER SKIRMISH: There's going to be a skirmish on Fraser Island over summer as Kingfisher Bay Resort teams up with Wide Bay Laser Skirmish for some friendly rounds of Domination and King of the Hill in the sand dunes and bush land above the resort. The high-tech lasers do away with traditional paint balls and bruises as fathers take on sons and uncles pit themselves against nephews. It's all happening December 19 and 20 and January 9 an 10. Bookings and registrations are essential (through the resort's reception on +61 7 4120 3333) and cost $30pp (This price does not include ferry transfers).
  • SCAVENGER HUNTS: Kingfisher Bay Resort's popular Junior Eco Ranger program takes the kids and teaches them about the natural environment in a fun, learning environment. These summer holidays, Resort Rangers will lead Night Walk Adventures and Astronomy sessions as well as Scavenger Challenges, Treasure Hunts and Beach Olympics. There's even a New Year's Eve program packed with games and frivolity to help the littlest members of your household ring in 2015. Bookings are essential with the Kingfisher Bay Resort Reception team on +61 7 4120 3333. Morning and Evening sessions cost $30 per child and include a meal.
  • DRIVER TRAINING: If your four-wheel-drive has spent more time in the urban jungle than on the sand tracks of Fraser… or you're simply not confident driving off-road, then Dave Darmody and the team from Australian Offroad Adventures have the skills to empower you. You'll start your day on the 4WD training track at Kingfisher before graduating to Kingfisher Hill and Fraser's sand track. Courses will run on January 10 & 14; February 15 & 18 and March 11 and 21 and cost $510 (including barge transfers, driver training and lunch). Bookings are essential onhttp://www.australianoffroadacademy.com.au/.

For more information, visit http://www.kingfisherbay.com.

More About The Resort

Kingfisher Bay Resort - on World Heritage Listed Fraser Island – includes 109 self-contained two and three-bedroomed villas; Kingfisher holiday houses for bigger groups; the 152-room Mercure Kingfisher Bay Resort – Fraser Island hotel; as well as touring and marine businesses.

McEnroe to take on Rafter in Sydney

One of the most iconic tennis players in the world, 17 time Grand Slam champion John McEnroe, is set to take on Australian Davis Cup Captain and fellow Hall of Famer Pat Rafter in the Sydney Men’s Legends event as part of the Apia International Sydney 2015.

The two tennis legends will play an exhibition match as the curtain-raiser to the Men’s Singles final on Saturday, 17 January at Ken Rosewall Arena, Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre.

Between them, Rafter and McEnroe hold nine Grand Slam singles titles, 11 Grand Slam doubles titles and 88 ATP World Tour titles. While the pair never met during their professional careers, they have developed a strong rivalry on the ATP Champions Tour.

At 55-years-old, McEnroe is aware the physical challenge of playing the younger Rafter will be tough, but 20 plus years of retirement have done little to dampen his competitive nature.

“I work out pretty much every day. I like it more than I did when I was No. 1 in the world. I don’t know if I can bridge this gap quite enough with Patrick Rafter, he’s still in fantastic shape, I think I’m giving up 14 years so that’s going to be a tall order,” said McEnroe on radio 2GB this morning.

“I don’t hate losing as much but I do hate it still. People say are you competitive? Yes, I’m competitive, not as competitive as when I was losing at Wimbledon or the Australian [Open] or the US [Open]. I have a slightly better perspective at 55 but I’ve noticed over the years that winning is a lot better than losing.”

His firey personality on court is something Rafter is well aware of and the Australian great says he is still as passionate as ever.

“He is one of the greatest guys to play on the Legends Tour. Not only was he my idol, but he’s someone i’ve played quite a few times now and he’s someone who always gives it 100 percent,” said 41-year-old Rafter.

“He still gets crazy and he is still incredibly passionate about playing tennis. I have a lot of respect for him when we play against each other. He’s got me once before and I’ll try not to let that ever happen again.”

While he never competed in the Sydney International or NSW Open, McEnroe has a happy history with Sydney, winning four consecutive Sydney Indoor titles from 1980-1983. Rafter competed in what is now the Apia International Sydney three times, with his best result a semi-final loss to Tim Henman in 1998.

Joining McEnroe and Rafter in the Sydney Men’s Legends are fellow greats Henri Leconte (FRA), Mansour Bahrami (IRI), Fabrice Santoro (FRA) and Australian favourite Pat Cash.

The four will play exhibition matches from 13-15 January on a special Legends Showcourt, meaning everyone with a $15 Ground Pass will be able to see the former greats in action. Rafter singled out Leconte and Bahrami as two of the most entertaining players on the Legends circuit.

“If I was to put an event on, these are the two guys that I would have at any exhibition event. Leconte and Bahrami have so much personality, they’ll make you laugh and they’ll show you some exceptional tennis shots. It’s all about entertainment out there and as a spectator you do not want to miss these guys playing.”

Tournament Director Alistair MacDonald said securing McEnroe, Rafter and the Legends Event for the Apia International Sydney 2015 would add an extra element to the fan experience.

“John McEnroe is one of the most renowned personalities not just in tennis, but in sport as a whole. He is passionate on and off the court and is still an incredibly gifted tennis player. To have him play Pat in the lead-up to our men’s final is incredibly exciting for us.”

“Add to that three days of Legends tennis with Leconte, Bahrami, Santoro and of course Pat Cash and you have an experience you simply can’t get at a lot of tournaments and one that can be enjoyed by anyone who walks through our gates.”

Apia International Sydney 2015, proudly supported by Apia in association with Volkswagen and The NSW Government’s tourism and major events agency Destination NSW, will take place at Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre from 11 to 17 January 2015.

The Apia International Sydney is part of the Emirates Australian Open Series which also includes the Hopman Cup (Perth), Brisbane International, Hobart International and the World Tennis Challenge (Adelaide).

Apia International Sydney single session tickets and series packages are now available.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.ticketek.com.au/sydneyinternational or call 1300 888 104.

Son La calls for investment in Moc Chau tourism zone

Son La province is calling for investment in its Moc Chau National Tourism Zone, which is expected to become a driving force for the tourism development of the locality as well as the whole northern midland and mountainous region.

At a seminar highlighting Moc Chau in Ha Noi on December 16, Chairman of the provincial People’s Committee Cam Ngoc Minh released that the Prime Minister recently approved a master plan for the development of the tourism zone by 2020, with a vision to 2030.

Under the plan, the zone, covering 206,000 hectares in Moc Chau and Van Ho districts, will feature diversified and unique tourism products with high competitiveness along with natural landscapes and ethnic cultural identities.

The zone is expected to welcome 1.2 million holidaymakers by 2020 and 3 million by 2030, generating revenues of 1.5 trillion VND (71.4 million USD) and 6 trillion VND (285.7 million USD) respectively.

It will target visitors from the Red River Delta and the northern midland and mountainous region as well as those from foreign markets such as Western Europe, Northern America, Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia.

The zone will include three key tourism centres, namely the Moc Chau relaxation centre, the Moc Chau eco-tourism centre and the Moc Chau recreational centre.

Community-based tourism villages will be formed in Dong Sang, Muong Sang, Tan Lap communes in Moc Chau district and Chieng Khoa commune in Van Ho district.

The province also plans to establish a transnational tourist route connecting Moc Chau and Laos via Long Sap border gate and intensify connectivity with other ASEAN member countries like Thailand and Myanmar.

According to the local Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Moc Chau has enjoyed a continuous increase in the number of tourists, from 288,000 arrivals in 2010, to 600,000 in 2013 and about 850,000 in 2014, mainly during holidays, winters and springs when plum and peach flowers blossom, and in Mong ethnics’ New Year festival in September.

APIA INTERNATIONAL TO RETURN TO SYDNEY IN 2015

NSW Government will once again partner with Tennis NSW and Tennis Australia for the Apia International for Sydney, Destination NSW Chief Executive Officer, Sandra Chipchase, announced on Wednesday.

The Apia International is an ATP World Tour 250 Event and a Premier Event on the WTA tour and will take place at the Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre from 11-17 January 2015.

The event will be part of a big summer of tennis in Sydney, which will also include a world premiere Fast4 match between Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt, and a legends tournament being led by former champions John McEnroe and Pat Rafter.

“I am pleased the NSW Government has secured APIA International for Sydney through Destination NSW. It promises to be a great tournament of tennis with many of the world’s top players on show including men’s major champion Juan Martin Del Potro, rising Australian stars Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic, while six of the world’s top 10 women will feature, including Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep, Agnieszka Radwanska and Australian champion Samantha Stosur,” Ms Chipchase said.

“In 2014 the event attracted more than 10,000 visitors to Sydney, with a total visitor expenditure of almost $3 million. With a similar result expected in 2015 it shows that events like the Apia International are key to the achievement of the Government’s goal of doubling overnight visitor expenditure by 2020.”

Apia International Sydney Tournament Director Alistair MacDonald said he was thrilled to be able to extend the tournament’s partnership with the NSW Government, through its tourism and major events agency Destination NSW.

“It is fantastic for the event and for the city of Sydney that we are able to partner with the NSW Government and Destination NSW once again. Their involvement with the tournament and the sport in NSW is crucial to our success and I thank them for their support,” Mr MacDonald said.

“This year we are presenting a real festival of tennis that offers something for everyone. From Kid’s Tennis Day to Legends, we have the world’s best tennis players arriving in Sydney to showcase their skills.”

Further information on the tournament can be found at.sydney.com/events/apia-international-sydney

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Hoi An rings in New Year with gala

Cultural activities and art performances to celebrate the New Year will take place next week in downtown Hoi An in the south-central province of Quang Nam. \

Nguyen Phuc Chu Street, along with a section of Nguyen Hoang Street and An Hoi statue garden, will turn into a festive site for the Hoi An Welcomes New Year 2015 evening gala.

All activities will take place from 4pm on December 31 to 1am on January 1. Food stalls featuring typical dishes prepared by famous restaurants and food shops from Hoi An Ancient Town will be open throughout the festival.

Foreign bands will kick off the performances, followed by a flash mob by local youths, which festivalgoers are encouraged to join. Next in the schedule comes a fashion show by YALY Couture, a company highly recommended by TripAdvisor. As the clock strikes midnight, spectacular street dances will draw participation from both locals and tourists.

In addition, there will be a special ceremony to welcome the 1.7 millionth visitor to Quang Nam on the main stage at 9pm on New Year's Eve. There will be another ceremony to welcome the first visitor to Hoi An in 2015 at 8am on January 1.

Hoi An Ancient Town was an essential international trading port in the 17th century, where ships from Japan, China, and European countries docked to exchange wares. Cultural exchange also took place, influencing the town in ways that can still be seen to this day.

Accor Celebrates 600th Hotel in Asia Pacific With Arrival of Pullman in Hong Kong

Accor has announced its 600th hotel in Asia Pacific with the signing of the landmark Park Lane hotel to the group's upscale Pullman brand. The rebranding of the Park Lane Hotel to Pullman is doubly significant because it is the brand's 50th hotel in the region, representing enormous growth since Pullman Hotels debuted in late 2007.

Accor, the leading international hotel operator in Asia Pacific, has announced its milestone 600th hotel in the region with the signing of The Park Lane Hong Kong to its upscale Pullman brand. The announcement comes as The Park Lane celebrates it 40th anniversary and signifies a new era for the hotel.

Michael Issenberg, Chairman and CEO of Accor Asia Pacific said “The addition of The Park Lane Hong Kong to the Pullman brand is a huge milestone for Accor because it brings us a strategic hotel in the centre of one of the world's most important business and tourism hubs at a time when Pullman is really affirming itself as one of the most exciting hotel brands in the region. The fact that it becomes our 600th hotel in the region is further cause for celebration because it is testament to Accor's strong growth in the region and our investment in Pullman as a brand of the future.

“The Park Lane's relaunch on 1 January 2015 will, I am sure, signify a very strong year for the Pullman brand, with more than 40 more Pullman hotels in the pipeline across the region for the new few years.”

The Park Lane is one of Hong Kong's most beloved hotels, boasting 826 rooms in the centre of Causeway Bay. While the hotel is very well maintained, a full renovation program has begun to bring it to Pullman's exacting global standards which will include a make-over of the Park Lane Suites, executive floors, dining outlets, meeting rooms and executive lounge. With its rooftop garden terrace boasting spectacular views over Hong Kong, the Park Lane features three restaurants and bars, 14 meeting rooms with a total of 10,371 sqft. of event space, a gym and wellness centre complete with sauna and steam bath, as well as a range of room styles to suit every type of traveller from business executives to families in one of the best locations in town. The interior design elements of the rooms will be overseen by LRI Hong Kong with renovations phased to avoid disruption to guests and the hotel will remain open throughout.

“We are very excited to join the Accor family and the Pullman brand and believe this will open The Park Lane hotel to greater distribution channels and more guests from across the globe,” said Luc Bollen, Regional Director Park Lane Hotels International. “Pullman is the perfect brand for The Park Lane because it appeals to today's cosmopolitan and connected traveller looking for upscale services and excellent business and meeting facilities. Our owners, Victoria Park Hotels Ltd are spending $200m HKD in the next two years to rejuvenate the hotel and we look forward to this new journey after celebrating 40 successful years in business.”

In just over seven years since its launch, Pullman has become one of the most dynamic upscale hotel brands in the region, quickly establishing itself as the largest five-star hotel brand in Australia and Accor's fastest-growing brand in Greater China. The Pullman brand aims to set new benchmarks in upscale accommodation, with a network of 80 hotels across 23 countries and 5 continents. Pullman hotels are typically vibrant hubs of exchange, offering tailored services, innovative technologies and a new approach to organising meetings. With contemporary architecture and design, a warm welcome and the promise of connectivity, Pullman hotels are aimed at today's busy and demanding traveller.

The fact that Accor's 600th hotel is part of the Pullman family is a great symbol of Accor's future growth in the region, with the group increasingly focused on expansion in the upscale and luxury sector. While Accor launched in Europe in 1967, the group's first hotel in Asia Pacific - the Novotel Orchid Singapore – opened in 1982. It took Accor 14 years to reach more than 100 hotels in Asia Pacific but from 1997 - 2007 the network tripled in size to over 300. Showing its strong focus on the region, Accor then doubled that network to 600, achieving in just six years what had previously taken 25 years.

Development has now reached record levels, with an average of one Accor hotel opening per week in Asia Pacific. This growth will continue to climb exponentially alongside the growing middle class in the region which is fuelling demand for quality, globally-branded hotel accommodation.

Accor is the world's leading hotel operator with 3600 hotels across all segments : luxury-upscale with Sofitel, Pullman, MGallery, Grand Mercure and The Sebel ; midscale with Novotel, Suite Novotel, Mercure and Adagio ; and economy with ibis, ibis Styles, ibis budget and Formule 1/hotelF1.Pullman is the upscale international hotel brand of Accor, the world's leading hotel operator, present in 92 countries with over 3,600 hotels and 170,000 employees. Located in the main regional and international cities and in prime tourist destinations, Pullman Hotels & Resorts is principally designed to cater for the requirements of cosmopolitan, seasoned travelers, whether they are travelling alone, with their clans or with colleagues. The brand's establishments offer a new approach to upscale hospitality. The Pullman network has more than 80 hotels in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific and Latin America where ideas, histories and cultures meet. Our objective is to have 150 hotels around the world by 2015-2020. Pullman, like most of Accor's brands, is proud to offer the Le Club Accorhotels loyalty program.

Further information concerning the Pullman hotels is available on www.pullmanhotels.com.

Santa Barbara's Film Feast 2015 Celebrates 30 Years of Filmmaking

For twelve straight days, the fifth annual Film Feast offers VIP access to the top libations and dining offerings as well as exclusive lodging packages throughout Santa Barbara's theater districts, from Jan. 27 to Feb. 7, 2015. Santa Barbara's Film Feast is a unique take on Restaurant Week, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF).

Participating partners, including restaurants, wine tasting rooms and hotels, will be offering special menus and hotel packages in celebration of the theme "30 Years of Filmmaking.” Visitors and locals alike will enjoy themed offerings inspired by the blockbuster films and indie favorites of the past 30 years.

SPECIAL MENUS

Local restaurants, tasting rooms and lounges have produced exclusive cinematic-themed menus and tasting flights to accompany the world premieres, celebrity tributes and panel discussions of SBIFF, with highlights including:
  • In honor of the festival's 30th anniversary, Barbareño will be serving up “Recipes from 1985,” a seven-course menu inspired by film favorites of 1985, from The Goonies to The Breakfast Club.
  • Inspired by the 2009 Italian film I Am Love, Crocodile Restaurant will be offering a prix fixe menu, “I Am Prawns!” featuring bacon-wrapped prawns, filet mignon with portabella mushroom demi glaze, and a chocolate mousse cake, with exclusive wine pairings.
  • The three-course tasting menu at Eladio's Restaurant & Bar salutes “30 Years of Film” with a salad inspired by the 2007 Pixar film Ratatouille, a second course of beef medallions inspired by 1997 film Titanic and the menu of the real-life R.M.S. Titanic, and as the Grand Finale, a dessert of “Planet of the Cakes,” inspired by Planet of the Apes (2001), Rise of the Planet of the Apes(2011), and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014).
  • Margerum Wine Company will be celebrating the film Vino Veritas with an exclusive tasting menu, “Love, Wine, and the Truth,” with locally produced boutique wines.

Film Feast is an invitation to Santa Barbara's best plates and pours! For more details, check out the complete list of offers at www.SBFilmFeast.com.

LODGING SPECIALS

Linger longer with cinema-centric lodging specials at several exclusive Santa Barbara properties. With Cheshire Cat Inn's “30th Anniversary Too” and Secret Garden Inn & Cottages' “30 Years of Filmmaking” packages, guests will enjoy film festival passes in addition to accommodations, breakfast, and other perks at two of Santa Barbara's most charming hideaways.

Special offers are also available at properties including Belmond El Encanto, Best Western Plus South Coast Inn, Hotel Santa Barbara, Ramada Santa Barbara, andThe Goodland, A Kimpton Hotel.

Go behind the scenes at Film Feast 2015 and share your red carpet experience using #SBFilmFeast! Visit SBFilmFeast.com for live updates and the inside scoop on Santa Barbara's best cuisine and libations.

Santa Barbara's Film Feast 2015 is presented as part of California Restaurant Month, held each January to showcase the destination's unforgettable dining experiences. Learn more at DineinCA.com.

BACK STORY

Santa Barbara's century-long career as a movie backdrop and getaway for top Hollywood talent started during the silent era — Santa Barbara was California's original filmmaking hub. Whether scouting sites dating back to Cecil B. DeMille'sThe Ten Commandments (1923), sipping pinot noir on the Sideways (2004) wine trail or watching cutting-edge cinema in historic theatres during the Film Festival, visitors will discover that Santa Barbara looks as good in real life as she does on the big screen. Visit Santa Barbara offers a comprehensive film tourism microsite as well as a Sideways movie tour map. Film Feast is presented by Visit Santa Barbara and Downtown Santa Barbara. SBFilmFeast.com

SANTA BARBARA

Featured on the cover of Travel + Leisure in May 2013 and voted Best Getaway by L.A. Times Readers' Choice Awards in 2012, Santa Barbara is located just 92 miles north of Los Angeles and 332 miles south of San Francisco, on the Pacific coastline. Visitors can arrive via scenic Highway 101, train, bus or by flying into Santa Barbara Municipal Airport or Los Angeles International Airport. For travel and accommodation information and to request a free copy of the official Santa Barbara Visitors Magazine, contact Visit Santa Barbara at 800.676.1266, 805.966.9222, tourism@santabarbaraca.com or SantaBarbaraCA.com. Visitor information is also available at the Visitor Center, 1 Garden Street (at Cabrillo Boulevard).