Gbenga Oluboye

Gbenga Oluboye

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Finnish capital Helsinki has launched a new partnership with Chinese technology giant Tencent to create a ground-breaking channel straight into the mobile devices of WeChat users.

Helsinki has set itself the goal of being the most digitalised city in the world, and the cooperation with Tencent ensures that the city is already now a globally remarkable innovator in digital tourism services.

In September 2017 Helsinki and Tencent signed a cooperation agreement, according to which Helsinki will serve as an intelligent tourism model for Chinese outbound tourism.

The two cooperation partners have since co-developed a destination mini program that offers Helsinki travel information to almost one billion WeChat users.

The mayor of Helsinki, Jan Vapaavuori, and general manager Zhan Shu from the Tencent governmental affairs and tourism centre, earlier launched the new WeChat Helsinki mini program as part of the Chinese New Year celebrations in Helsinki.

The initial version of the WeChat Helsinki mini program allows users to access content about Helsinki’s sights, services, events and transportation.

Panoramic Helsinki 360-photos, a translation service and emergency help are also included.

As a pioneer in utilising open data, Helsinki will continue to work closely with Tencent to further develop the application.

Helsinki’s open data resources include databases for places, events and services.

The aim is to build an application that provides users with comprehensive, professional and real-time information and services.

“Helsinki’s strategic aim is to be the forerunner city of digitalisation in the near future.

“For travellers we want to be the safest, most functional and happiest place to visit.

“The Helsinki mini program makes it possible to share what’s best about Helsinki with millions of Chinese people in a way that creates a sharable, local experience,” said Vapaavuori.

In the near future the WeChat Helsinki mini program will also include an interactive map and a public transportation journey planner.

The aim is also to include the possibility to buy mobile tickets for public transport and test the WeChat Pay integration for some of the services.

“It is the best beach in Salalah,” explains Rhoda Nuhu from the team at Salalah Rotana Resort, “I know, because I have seen them all.”

For once this is no marketing hyperbole, it really is – hundreds of metres of crisp white sand stretching into the distance with rolling waves crashing rhythmically down.

Rotana prides itself on identifying desirable travel destinations and the Abu Dhabi-based company has excelled itself here in Oman.

While still relatively unknown to British travellers, Salalah has been on the radar of several key eastern European markets for a number of years and continues to grow in popularity.

Salalah Rotana Resort has played no small part in that.

Opening in March 2014, the five-star property is the largest free-standing hotel in the sultanate and is just 35 kilometres from the sparkling new international airport.

As Rotana chief executive Omer Kaddouri explains: “Oman has always been a key growth market for us to expand into.

“We pride ourselves in identifying new and upcoming travel destinations people wish to visit and Salalah is growing in popularity.

“The opening of Salalah Rotana Resort is an exciting one for us, not only does it take us one step closer to reaching our ultimate vision, but it has strengthened the company’s standing as the leading hotel management company in the region.”

Away from the immaculate beach the resort is home to 422-rooms, having recently been expanded to meet growing demand.

A range of categories allows Rotana to cater for families, honeymooning couples, and small groups, while the crowd tends toward an older, more sophisticated demographic.

Although a year-round destination, October-through-April tends to be driven by European markets, while Middle Eastern guests arrive throughout the summer to take advantage of the cooler temperatures afforded by the Khareef, or monsoon.

During our visit in early spring, we were accommodated in a Premium Ocean Front Suite – and what an apartment it was.

Spacious, with great views over the Indian Ocean, it offered a private terrace and breakfasting here on ful medames, fresh bread, and black coffee proved to be one of the highlights of the whole resort.

The furnishings in all the rooms have been carved from desert rock, while Arabesque geometric designs and stone archways, constructed using traditional techniques, resemble atriums.

En-suite bathrooms and generous living areas also made it a grand setting for our all-too-short break.

Outside, an elaborate network of manmade Venetian waterways connects the property to the Indian Ocean, with the canals filled with 105,000 square metres of seawater and refreshed every four days using natural tidal patterns. 

At over 100,000 square metres, it must take a fantastic amount of work to keep the property in its state of Truman Show perfection.

While large, it feels quiet, with guests afforded a surprising amount of privacy given the high number of rooms.

We wandered to the beach daily and were only greeted by a handful fellow guests – a world away from what one would expect in a similar European resort.

With four restaurants - including Saffron, The Beach Restaurant, Silk Road, and Arabesque Lounge & Terrace, the lobby lounge - the resort offers the perfect mélange of dining options from casual beachside cuisine to fine dining on Middle Eastern and Western cuisine.

We spent the majority of our time in The Beach Restaurant, where a relaxed vibe made it a great place to watch the sun go down.

Half board guests are treated to evening drinks - no small prize in this largely dry community – while the service for dinner is quick, discreet, and attentive.

While currently only around 15 per cent of the staff are Omani, the resort is constantly seeking to boost this figure.

Guests looking to rejuvenate can indulge in treatments at Zen the spa at Rotana, the home-grown concept derived from ancient holistic Asian philosophies.

The spa features eight treatment rooms that blend natural Omani elements and offers holistic treatments and rituals including full body massages, facials and soothing wraps.

I was treated to an aromatherapy massage during my stay, designed to ease stress and balance the mind and the body, and it worked a charm.

Guests can select their preference of essential oil to suit their mood, leading to a bespoke treatment for each visitor.

Adventurous types looking to explore the local area can head to a Mughsayl, where tidal geysers explode from the rocks during the summer season, or visit the UNESCO recognised Al Baleed Archaeological Park.

Once a major facility for the production of frankincense, it has been rebuilt in recent years to offer insight into the history of the region.

Generally, however, the tourism sector in Salalah lags a little behind some of the facilities on offer in the resorts, so guests may well prefer to take advantage of the hospitality on offer at Rotana.

Salalah Rotana Resort marked the 50th hotel to be operated by Rotana in the Middle East, representing the half-way mark for the group’s plans to operate 100 hotels by 2020.

The property is part of an integrated resort, alongside two further hotels, and is considered Oman’s Leading Beach Resort by the World Travel Awards.

The main stakeholders are Orascom Development, a leading developer of fully integrated destinations; Muriya, a joint venture between Orascom Development Holdings and Omran; Oman Air; and the Oman Tourism Board.

Virgin Australia has announced a long-term relationship with Gate Gourmet, the airline catering brand of gategroup, which will see the caterer become the sole service provider for the major airline.

The six-year relationship will deliver a wide range of benefits to all Virgin Australia passengers, with Gate Gourmet providing inflight dining and handling to travellers flying across Asia, Australia, and North America.

Virgin Australia operates around 400 domestic and approximately 50 international flights per day.

The partnership will see gategroup expand its Virgin Australia portfolio by 40 per cent, allowing both companies to drive operational and cost benefits while delivering continued improvements to the inflight passenger experience.

Virgin Australia’s catering operations will now be aligned with one strategic supplier, creating greater efficiency and control of on-board food and beverage offerings.

Xavier Rossinyol, gategroup chief executive, said: “This is an exciting evolution of our relationship with Virgin Australia.

“We are extremely proud to work with such a celebrated Australian airline.

“gategroup’s on-going relationship with Virgin Australia further strengthens its position as a leading airline caterer in Oceania region, leveraging our commercial and retail innovations.

“It’s an exciting time for the industry and for pushing boundaries on what inflight meals and services can be.”
gategroup currently works closely with Virgin Australia’s head chef Luke Mangan to deliver the airline’s renowned business class meals across domestic and international flights.

The relationship will be effective from late June 2018, when Gate Gourmet will transition to the full service provider for Virgin Australia.

The partnership will create around 100 jobs at gategroup which will be based around Australia.

Marriott International has announced the signing of Le Méridien Melbourne, in partnership with owner and developer Jinshan Investment Group.

Slated to open in 2020, the 235-room hotel will boast the brand’s distinct mid-century modern approach.

This signing reinforces Le Méridien’s dynamic global growth, following recent openings in Italy, South Korea, China and the United States, all within the last 12 months.

“After opening stunning hotels in Rome, Seoul and Denver last year, we are thrilled to continue our growth momentum in Melbourne,” said Brian Povinelli, global brand leader, Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts. 

“With its light-hearted yet sophisticated style, Melbourne and Le Méridien have a similar sensibility; and we are delighted to reintroduce the brand – born in Paris during an era of glamorous travel – to global guests and locals alike.”

Perfectly situated amid art galleries, boutiques and bistros, Le Méridien Melbourne will be located near the city’s cultural centre, fronting the Bourke/Spring Street tram stop and a stone’s throw from Victoria’s Parliament Square. 

The 12-story hotel converted from an existing low-rise building will draw inspiration from both the brand and the light, airy and modern nature of the coastal capital of the south-eastern Australian state of Victoria.

Le Méridien Melbourne will also feature Cuisines, a 90-seat all day dining restaurant; 210 square meter function space and three breakout rooms; a heated swimming pool and large fitness centre.

“We’re excited to partner with Marriott International to open Le Méridien Melbourne,” said Tony Chau, project manager, Jinshan Investment Group.

“Le Méridien brand’s focus on culture will provide a distinctive offering for visitors to Melbourne; it was always our intention to partner with a brand with such an exceptional point of difference.

“Le Méridien Melbourne will play a significant role in catering to cosmopolitan and forward-looking travellers to the city.”

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