DEAL OF THE WEEK One year on from its very grand opening, the St Regis Macao is in a surprising battle to keep the kitschy old Hotel Lisboa off TripAdvisor’s list of top hotels in Macau. At time of writing, the St Regis was at 21 and the Lisboa at 20, but the positions are tantalisingly fluid.
Possibly reflecting this perhaps unfairly low ranking, the St Regis is selling a cheap anniversary package that includes one night for two guests in a Deluxe room, breakfast at The Manor restaurant, one-way first-class ferry tickets for two or a HK$300 dining or spa credit (take the tickets, of course) and a few other sweeteners. The HK$1,812 price tag reflects the hotel’s December 18 birthday; the added 15 per cent tax and service charge of HK$271.80 does not. For full details and reservations, go to www.stregismacao.com/first-anniversary.
TOURIST TALES Any discussion about the history of modern tourism inevitably begins with Thomas Cook and his pioneering railway excursions around Britain in the 1840s. In 1872, he led the first-ever round-the-world package tour (which briefly visited Hong Kong in December that year), and such was the ongoing success of Cook’s tours that several books have been written – with the help of a substantial company archive – about the man and his achievements.
Often forgotten, though, are his rivals and contemporaries – men like Henry Gaze, whose travel firm, which had about 100 offices worldwide in the 1890s, went bankrupt in 1906. Offering cheaper trips than Thomas Cook, the Polytechnic Touring Association – part of what is now the University of Westminster – initially took students and then other budget-minded tourists far and wide, from the Swiss Alps to Chicago.
At the other end of the market was Sir Henry Lunn Travel, which catered to a more discerning, higher-class clientele. Ironically, these two travel companies merged in the 1960s to form Lunn Poly, which went on to become Britain’s biggest travel agent. It was rebranded as Thomson in 2004.
A new book looking at the history of the Polytechnic Touring Association, Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday, is more focused on that one company than its title suggests, but should appeal to anyone interested in the earliest days of packaged tours and the plucky people who dared to join them. Written by Neil Matthews, Victorians and Edwardians Abroad is available from amazon.co.uk.
THAI CONNECTIONS The Marriott Pattaya Resort & Spa has just been rebranded as the Avani Pattaya Resort & Spa. Avani is a five-year-old brand owned by the Minor Hotel Group, which has owned the property since 1978, when it was first opened as the Royal Garden Resort. Former guests of the popular old resort will probably have no trouble recognising the new one – its website’s main page features a photo (also released to the press) that shows the Marriott with an Avani sign photoshopped on the front wall (above).
Minor’s other upmarket hotel brand is Anantara, which opened its first resort 15 years ago across the Bay of Bangkok, in Hua Hin (huahin.anantara.com). Both these Minor resorts will soon be within easy reach if reports that a new high-speed ferry service linking Hua Hin and Pattaya could start on January 1 are true. This would cut travel time between the two resort towns, which are currently linked only by road via Bangkok, from several hours (depending on traffic) to about 90 minutes.
Details are sketchy, and there’s no ferry website, even in Thai, but it looks like there will be one morning and one afternoon departure from each terminal, allowing for day trips in both directions. Watch this space for confirmation of the new route. For opening rates at the Avani Pattaya Resort & Spa, visit www.minorhotels.com/en/avani/pattaya.
NAME CHANGE Another resort soon to be renamed is The Nam Hai, which opened on China Beach near Hoi An on the central Vietnamese coast 10 years ago this month. Accepting reservations from December 20, the Four Seasons Resort, The Nam Hai will have its work cut out maintaining the standards of the previous management company, GHM, which built a reputation for the luxury property as one of the finest in Southeast Asia.
Prices vary, but you can get every fourth night free by booking direct at www.fourseasons.com/hoian. Hong Kong Express and Cathay Dragon fly daily to nearby Danang.