Virtuoso’s Travel Week Highlights New Luxury Travel Trends

Earlier this month in Las Vegas, leading luxury travel agency Virtuoso conducted the largest meeting of luxury brands in the travel industry, Virtuoso Travel Week.

While we sadly were stuck on the East Coast for this event, we kept close tabs on the “meetings of the minds” out West and were intrigued by what emerged as conference trends.

Bhutan: A Bucket List Destination
Closed to outsiders for centuries, the Kingdom of Bhutan recently emerged as a “must” on savvy travelers’ bucket lists. The first country in the world to measure its success by the “Gross National Happiness” of its citizens, Bhutan attracts travelers with a social conscience and those seeking a spiritual journey like none other.

Cruising: Not Just For Oceans
River cruising is poised to continue growth in the luxury travel market, particularly as disasters and discontent with larger ocean-going cruise lines continue to make waves in national headlines. These typically smaller ships are able to offer a higher-level of service and see areas that big ships can’t reach.

Ecuador: A Hot Spot In South America
Offering something for everyone, Ecuador boasts a beach culture along the Pacific Ocean, the mountainous Andes, exotic Amazon and, of course, the gateway to the Galapagos Islands (a short 1 hour, 35 minute-flight). Announcing its new tourism concept called “Conscious Tourism,” Ecuador is the first nation in the world to include the Rights of Nature in its constitution, and the country will forgo some 846 million barrels of heavy crude reserves to protect the biological diversity and indigenous people of the Yasuni National Park, in turn becoming the first developing country to propose an effective, quantifiable and verifiable carbon abatement model. Now it will be easier to visit Ecuador, as the country is the first in South America to use the U.S. Dollar as its national currency, it shares a time zone with the U.S. minimizing jetlag, and soon will open a state-of-the-art international airport to welcome visitors from around the world.

Luxury Travel Thrives: Travelers Help Market Bounce Back
Virtuoso says an outcome of the financial crisis is the changing consumer mindset, where uncertainty has created a greater desire for stronger personal connections and enriching experiences, both of which can be achieved through travel. Virtuoso points to its network’s 51 percent increase in production since 2009 at the height of the U.S., and subsequent global, economic recession as proof that the industry is thriving. Since early 2010, the travel community has contributed to 7.2 percent of overall job growth, outpacing the growth of the rest of the economy in employment recovery.

Self-Boarding Gates Debut At Las Vegas Airport

The process from booking to flying has been increasingly streamlined as airlines cut costs and invest in infrastructure. Ticketing, baggage drop-off, seat selection and a variety of other services have all been simplified, often to the point where there are only a few staff members handling a massive check-in line.

Where airline staff is still critical is at the boarding gate, where upgrades, ticket changes, passenger loading and a variety of other issues are still handled. To handle that dynamic environment, anywhere between one and a handful of airline agents is necessary for operation.

If the Swiss group Kaba has its way though, those staff members may start to disappear. The company has designed an automated check-in device that scans your boarding pass and allows passage from the terminal to the aircraft – all without interfacing with an agent. It’s a tool that could speed up the boarding process as well as cut down on costly staff necessary at the gate.

Already in limited operation in Europe, Kaba’s first automatic gate is now operating at the MaCarran airport in Las Vegas, and if the trial is successful then distribution will expand.

And what happens when you bring a mobile boarding pass to the gate or the system doesn’t automatically process your ticket? At this point, there will still be staff on hand to manually process your boarding. But if this pilot program is successful, you can expect a lot fewer staff to help in the future.

Where Do You Find A 500 Item Buffet? Las Vegas, Naturally

bac·cha·nal   [n. bah-kuh-nahl, bak-uh-nal, bak-uh-nl; adj. bak-uh-nl]
1. a follower of Bacchus.
2. a drunken reveler.
3. an occasion of drunken revelry; orgy; bacchanalia.
4. the new $17 million, 500+ item buffet at Caesars Palace

Longtime Las Vegas lovers will remember the epic Bacchanal at Caesars Palace, a Roman-style feast that closed in 2000. Like all good things, it’s come back around. In early September, the hotel and resort will open a 21st century adaptation of the Bacchanal Buffet to the tune of $17 million.

That’s one expensive restaurant. Just what does one get when they spend that much? A culinary experience that rivals a Vegas show, it seems. Touting what the Palace says will be the “most variety on the Las Vegas Strip,” Bacchanal Buffet will feature more than 500 items from classic favorites such as made-to-order omelets, the freshest seafood and roasted meats like prime rib to cutting edge, regional comfort food like breakfast pizzas, red velvet pancakes, wood fired Neapolitan pizzas and Chinese dim sum, even roasted South Carolina shrimp and grits.

The views? The property’s famous Garden of the Gods pool complex. Because you want to go swimming after eating at a 500 item buffet, naturally.

Let’s break that down by the numbers:
Size: 25,000 square feet
Seating: 600 guests
Kitchens: 9, including Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, American, Seafood, Pizza, Deli and Dessert.

Most kitchens will feature an interactive chef, crafting a total of:
Dinner: More than 300 items
Breakfast: More than 95 items
Pastry: An additional 115 pastry items available during dinner (who knew there were 115 kinds of pastry?)
Bread: More than 20 different varieties of fresh-baked bread and rolls
Soups: More than 10 daily soups, many of which will rotate daily
Cheeses: 7 farmstead American cheeses available year round with 3 changing seasonally

Lest you think, wait! that’s not enough … there will also be crepes made-to-order, oyster shucking, house-smoked ribs and brisket, and yes, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. Because usually those who eat at a 500-item buffet are watching their waistlines.
The prices are fairly reasonable – $19.99 for breakfast, $24.99 for lunch, and $39.99 for a seafood dinner, or a $10 supplemental charge for the standard Caesars buffet pass.

We’ll add one more stat: average number of pounds gained if you eat at this restaurant once a day during your stay: approximately 5.

An App To Improve Your Las Vegas Travels

We love Las Vegas, and anything that helps us save money in Sin City is good in our books. That’s why we love the new TravelVegas app. Made by the same team that launched, a great site for Las Vegas Discounts, the free app is full of coupons and useful information.
“By simplifying an overwhelming amount of information in an iPhone app, we are able to help travelers find their way around the city, all while saving them money,” said Brandon Schenecker, TravelVegas CEO.
While we like the idea of discounts, we’re probably not the clientele for the $5 steak and egg breakfast special. Instead, we prefer to use the app for planning, saving things we plan to do in the “favorites” tab and then using the map feature to plan out our itinerary.

The app is also useful while strolling the strip. Travelers can explore the city on a multifaceted map that allows the user to sort, filter and search for just about anything. Lost, as we so often happen to be? Users can make a phone call, get directions, or view an indoor hotel map.

You can also use the app to view a menu and set up dining reservations, buy discounted tickets, or book a hotel room, something that is notoriously difficult to do on Vegas hotel’s flashy but less-than-easy-to-navigate hotel websites.

What do you think?

Hotel Openings: First Look Inside Las Vegas’ Nobu Hotel

Sushi and celebrity lovers alike know Nobu as one of the country’s ritziest places to order your tuna and tempura. Now you can know it as a place to lay your head as well. Nobu Hospitality is opening their first hotel in Las Vegas, now taking reservations from October 1, 2012.

The first branded hotel venture by a celebrity chef, Nobu Hotel includes not only a top toque but a celebrity actor as well – Robert De Niro is also a partner in the hospitality group.
A Hotel Within A Hotel
Earlier this week in New York City, the group showed off the initial plans for their new hotel, which will be located inside Caesar’s Palace.
The hotel-within-a-hotel will offer a Japanese Zen feel, from the wooden tiles that extend from the elevator to the hallways to the sleek cherry blossom patterned carpet and custom light fixtures inspired by origami. Sleek touch-screen elevators will add a hint of the hotel’s cutting-edge technology and guide guests to the 181 hotel rooms and 18 suites with Strip or garden views.
“We have created a distinctly Japanese experience in the heart of Las Vegas with the first Nobu Hotel, but with a playful interpretation of Nobu’s style and the Vegas bravado,” said Rockwell, founder and CEO of Rockwell Group. “Using the grand canvas of a hotel, we were able to elaborate on the use of hand-crafted, curated materials that create a luxurious effect and provide a world-class Nobu experience.”
Inside the Guest Rooms
Guest rooms will be distinctly more Zen-like then most of their over-the-top counterparts and will feature neutral tones with hints of purple and aqua. Custom art by up-and-coming Japanese artists will feature a mix of traditional prints and expressionist designs, speaking to the link between traditional Japanese and modern art. The main focal point of the room will be the feature wall that displays a custom calligraphy, as seen in the photo above.
Bathrooms will feature rich teak fittings, stone tiles and traditional black Umi tiles. Walk-in showers will offer multiple showerheads and a teak bathing stool, a commodity seen in traditional Japanese bathhouses. Toto toilets and sinks that showcase custom freestanding concrete bowls set on wood plinth are designed to evoke a garden fountain. Luxurious bath amenities will include a selection of products by Natura Bissein, featuring a signature rosemary and white tea scent designed exclusively for Nobu Hotel.
A Zen-Like Experience
The arrival experience will include personalized service with in-room iPad registration and a traditional hot tea welcome amenity.

The unique turndown service will include his and hers yukata robes and slippers displayed bedside along with an exclusive Nobu Hotel blend of scented sleep oils. An upgraded minibar curated by Nobu will consist of unique selections including organic Wild Poppy blood orange chili juice crafted from orchards in California, chocolate-dipped Pocky pretzels, Japanese beer and an assortment of Dean & Deluca snack items. Nobu’s signature brands of chilled sake and Genmai-Cha brown rice green tea will also be available.
Nobu Hotel guests will also have private access to the adjacent 11,200-square-foot restaurant and lounge with priority seating and 24-hour access to Nobu cuisine through the first ever in-room dining menu.
The menu will include popular Japanese items, along with Nobu’s signature twists on American classics. A selection of bento boxes will offer a customary Japanese breakfast and the Vegas-themed High Roller, which features lobster wasabi, Wagyu steak, spicy garlic shrimp and an assortment of nigiri and premium sushi rolls. Additional menu items will include green tea waffles served with braised short rib, egg and aged maple; bagel and lox featuring salmon sashimi served on an “everything bagel” made of crispy rice; the RLT with rock shrimp, butter lettuce and Maui onion tomato salsa in a creamy spicy sauce; and the tonkatsu sandwich with panko pork and prune katsu sauce on shokupan bread.
The hotel is now taking reservations for October 1 and beyond. We’ll keep you posted on an opening date! What do you think? Can’t wait to stay or would prefer just to dine and stay elsewhere?