Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Best Hotel With Traditional Ethnic Identity

The Hotel With the Best Traditional Ethnic Identity is the delightful Misiliana Hotel in Toraja, Indonesia. Nestled in the scenic Toraja Highlands of Sulawesi, this enchanting resort was built nearly four decades ago in authentic traditional Torajan style. It is staffed entirely by local tribal-folk, and everything here is genuinely native, from the ethnic Tongkonan architecture to the local village-style layout of the resort. Even the food served here is truly local – while the comprehensive menu encompasses both Western and Torajan dishes, the chefs are local people and both vegetables and fish come fresh from the ponds and organic farm-plots within this extensive resort itself! The family is the primary social structure in Torajan society. Each village is one extended family, the seat of which is the traditional Tongkonan house with its distinctive large boat-shaped roof. The elders of each household maintain village unity and nurture its traditions. In keeping with these ancient traditions, the Misiliana Hotel is family-owned and the daily management is presided over by the clan matriarch, her daughter and son-in-law. While maintaining international standards and practices in running the hotel, the family integrates the unique Torajan Christian faith and ancient local culture into administrative matters such as staff-relations, property maintenance and finance. Management cannot get more ethnic than this!
What really enchanted us was how this familial tradition creates a natural warmth and hospitality within Misiliana. Every guest is treated as a friend of the family, and the staff greet you with a mixture of professional deference and spontaneous cheerfulness. From humble gardener to regal matriarch, they are really glad you came! Inside the picturesque two-storied Tongkonan houses, each of the 96 rooms at this 3-star property has a terrace and all the mod-cons one could wish for. The lush 8-hectare grounds include lovely landscaped gardens, two attractive swimming pools, jogging tracks, a kiddies’ fishing pond, vegetable gardens, tennis courts, a fitness centre and idyllic farm ponds with quiet ‘thinking spots’. Add majestic mountains for a scenic backdrop, and you have one of our favourite hotels in the world!

All pix by Andrew Ponnampalam

The Tales On The Tails

Dogs do it, foxes do it and the peacock does it too! But commercial aircraft do it all the time! Holding the tail proudly upright is the integral identity of every self-respecting aircraft, but commercial planes seem to do it with the most gaudy abandon. The aircraft come in various colours and designs, but they almost always carry the logo of the airline on their erect tail-fins. Some of these logos look familiar and some are amusing, while others can be downright weird and mystifying! It can be fun tracing the tales told by these tails. I was flipping through my name-card holder the other day, and came across numerous interesting airline emblems.

Birds are the most common symbol chosen by airlines for their logo. Some, like Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Air Macau, Ukraine International, Shangdong Airlines of China and Amber Air of Lithuania have highly-stylised graphic avian depictions while many others opt for more recognizable presentations. China Eastern has a swallow in flight, while its partner China Yunnan has the lovely peacock found in that province. .China Xinhua has what looks like a dove just taking off, but the graphic depiction is clever because it also resembles a hand waving in greeting. Xiamen Airlines has a graceful crane in flight, while the former Xinjiang Airlines had its bird symbol elegantly flying past a crescent moon to denote its Islamic identity.

Air Niugini of Papua New Guinea and Air Paradise of Bali both share the exotic Bird-Of-Paradise, while Cebu Pacific carries a stylised head of the Philippine Eagle. The flag-carriers of island nations such as Air Mauritius and Air Seychelles have a long-winged seabird that can stay in flight over the sea for months at a time. Condor of Germany, Air Merlin Eurojet of Essex and Kingfisher Airlines of India simply carry the birds they are named for although the German carrier’s logo could also be interpreted as an aeroplane. By contrast, the Indian carrier dispensed with any graphic design and opted for a full-colour photo-realistic illustration of a Common Kingfisher. Another airline with a realistic illustration of a bird as its logo is Highland Airways of Scotland which carries the local eagle.

The most unique bird-logo in the airline world must surely belong to Thailand’s Nok Air, which simply shows a cartoon version of a duck’s beak! I haven’t figured out the meaning, but it really looks cute – and different.
Many airlines opt for mythical birds and beasts such as the griffin and the phoenix. Egypt Air, PB Air of Thailand, Myanmar Airways International, Austria’s Styrian Spirit, and Garuda Indonesia are examples of airlines whose aircraft tail-fins bear creatures of their local legends. In this category, dragons are a favourite, especially in Asia. Apart from the obviously-named Dragonair of Hongkong, the former First Cambodia Airlines and Druk Air of Bhutan are among those who sport the dragon on their livery. Yangon Airways is the only airline I know of that actually depicts a flying elephant! Ironically, there isn’t a single Jumbo Jet in their fleet.

Animals are also featured quite regularly on the tails of commercial aircraft. Quantas has the Kangaroo, Qatar Airways has the Ibex, and Tiger Air of Singapore has a leaping tiger that looks suspiciously like the one on the old Malayan Airways aircraft. The former Vision Air of Borneo had an attractive symbol of a horse, simply because the owner had a passion for horses! People are rarely featured on airline tail-fins, but AeroMexico has a proud-looking Aztec warrior while Hawaiian Airlines has a winsome wahine with flowers in her hair.

Plants are another favourite choice for airline emblems, and the most famous of these could be AerLingus with the legendary Irish four-leaf clover in an evocative shade of green. In a similar vein, Air Canada carries the national emblem of a maple leaf. Tourism-focussed companies Atlantic Express Airlines and Andaman Airlines both show a palm-tree by the seaside. Vietnam Airlines has a golden lotus-flower while Lao Airlines carries a charming depiction of a local flower, too. China Airlines of Taiwan has a full-colour representation of the cherry blossom, an auspicious spring flower throughout the Orient.

American companies might think the world is their oyster, judging from the popularity of the globe on their carriers. Both the iconic Pan American World Airlines (PanAm) and Trans World Airlines (TWA) had depictions of the globe, but they both went bankrupt. Today, Continental Airlines proudly presents a strong globe logo on its aircraft tail-fins, and we wish it a much more prosperous future than its former competitors.

National flag-carriers such as Royal Brunei Airlines and Saudi Arabian Airlines carry very formal and intricate national crests. Unusual airline emblems include Oman Air’s traditional and lethal-looking dagger, the Maltese Cross of Air Malta, Philippines Airline’s cheerful sunburst, Mandala Airlines of Indonesia’s prayer-wheel, and in sharp contrast, the garish word “Virgin” by all the carriers in the Virgin group. If you have ever visited the eastern state of Kelantan in Malaysia and watched the graceful giant traditional kites called wau in action, you would really appreciate the unique identity of Malaysia Airlines – the only airline I know of that carries a kite on its aircraft tail-fins. Now, you can actually tell someone to “go fly a kite!”

Pix by oneworld and SkyTeam

Monday, 18 November 2013

The Best Airport With Unexpected Potential

The Airport With The Best Unexpected Potential is Keflavik International Airport in Iceland. For a country known more for its remote location and desolate dramatic landscapes, Iceland has a surprisingly excellent international airport. The design, especially at night, reminds one of crystal-clear ice-cubes – singularly appropriate for this unspoilt land where water can be drunk from the glacier-fed streams and waterfalls. The Icelandic people are not especially friendly or effusively welcoming, but they are most efficient and helpful; and Keflavik Airport reflects this in its operations and ambience.
The Icelandair Business Lounge has a similar character – its design is stylish and efficient, and its amenities meticulously comprehensive.
Generally, Keflavik Airport is very well-run, stylish and effective – qualities airlines look for in an air-hub. And this is where Keflavik has unexpected potential – it makes an excellent major air-hub between North America and Europe. Just four hours from the USA and three hours to Europe, Keflavik is ideally located for future growth in trans-Atlantic traffic, so watch this facility that won the IATA/ACI award for World’s Best Airport In Its Class in 2005. We believe it could see an annual traffic of over 10 million passengers sooner than later!

Pix© ulalume on Flickr, Keflavik Airport(KEH)

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Best Hotel Architectural Theme

The Hotel With The Best Architectural Theme we are impressed with is the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark. Designed in 1956 by the famed architect and furniture designer Arne Jacobsen, this 20-storey cubist edifice was one of the first skyscrapers in that part of Europe, and stands today as an immaculately-preserved monument to his passion for perfection in proportion. The seemingly outdated exterior hides an exquisite gem of interior design, style and spartan elegance. Often called “The World’s First Designer Hotel”, this establishment has the master’s touch in everything from the architecture and interior design right down to taps, door-knobs, and even textiles. Two of Arne Jacobsen’s most famous icons, The Swan and The Egg chairs, were actually designed especially for this hotel, and many of his innovations here have been copied throughout the world in the past half-century. In the extensive renovations undertaken in 2000, great care was taken to preserve the master’s work, and room 606 was kept exactly as Arne Jacobsen left it, right down to the curtains and bathroom tiles.
Pix By Royal SAS Hotel

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Best Hotel Art Collection

The Hotel With The Best Art Collection we like is the quaint Hotel Santo Domingo in Madrid, Spain. Eclectic, unpredictable and personal, this collection of the owner is placed in every nook and cranny of this lovely old building. In meeting rooms, along corridors, beside lifts and on stairways, fine art reaches out to the astonished guest. Magnificent masterpieces by Old Masters and renown Spanish painters such as Esquivel, Madrazo, Ravestein, Balaca and Palmaroli share space with startling avant-garde work by modern painters; and exquisite sculptures vie for the eye with lovingly-maintained 16th century furniture. At times garish and at times breathtakingly beautiful, this display of antiques, artifacts and art through the ages made for an unforgettable stay in 2002. Often referred to as “The Museum You Can Stay At”, this hotel is tucked away in the quiet Plaza Santo Domingo, near historic landmarks such as the Royal Place and the Opera House. It is also a strategic place from which to access Madrid’s great museums and art houses.Pix by Hotel Santo Domingo

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Best Hotel For Staff Spirit

The Hotel With The Best Staff Spirit we found was Plantation Bay on Mactan Island Cebu, Philippines. This 7-hectare tropical lagoon resort was created to replicate the hospitality and spirit of the great old plantation houses, where guests were received with great honour and courtesy. Indeed, there was something exceptional in the spirit with which we were hosted. It was something soft, subtle and soothing; a gentle and evocative happiness in the way the staff related to guests that was both indefinable yet distinctly different. The pleasant professional courtesy aside, there was a meticulous care and commitment to the welfare of guests that was somehow special. Intrigued, we prevailed on the owner to share his secret,which he did very reluctantly. His hand-picked staff-members were all graduates of nursing-school before he moulded them into hospitality charmers! What an innovative, effective idea! One wonders if the take-over by international hotel chains has ruined the magic we found in 1998…..

The Best Airport For Local Identity & Architecture

The Airport With The Best Architectural Theme we like is the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia. In an aviation world of glitzy look-alike steel-and-glass edifices sprouting up everywhere, it is refreshing to be welcomed by the local hospitality of a decidedly ethnic-looking airport. Soekarno-Hatta has no pretensions of grandeur, but a down-to-earth friendly Indonesian design. Walls are of clean white concrete with brown pillars that aptly represent traditional wood-carving so typical of the Indonesian lifestyle. The halls and walkways are relatively low, again fairly typical of local residences. There are touches of classical Indonesian handicraft on the wall panels and even at each set of wall-mounted phone-booths.
It is an old-fashioned, slightly weather-beaten and oddly comfortable gateway to the great Indonesian archipelago. My favourite features at Soekarno-Hatta are the lovely small, neatly-manicured gardens outside every departure hall – each a placid little oasis of restful green. From the air, the main terminal of this airport looks decidedly like an Indonesian resort – an apt and evocative symbol of this nation’s great potential for tourism growth.
As the Indonesian economy grows and the tourism industry flourishes, Soekarno-Hatta International Airport will see expansion, renovation and refurbishment. It is my fervent hope that the authorities have the wisdom and vision to preserve this airport's distinctive Indonesian character and uniquely local architectural identity for decades to come. If they do so, it will ensure that Indonesia will have one of the most distinctive international airports in the world, with a truly Indonesian heritage and identity.

Pix by Luc Citrinot

The Best Airlines With Local Flavour

The Airlines With The Best Local Flavour are sadly gone or going fast, swept away by this millennium’s mad dash towards bigger companies and cheaper operations. We were captivated by the cheerfulness and local pride that was evinced by the dirndl-dressed cabin crew of the former Tyrolean Airlines of Innsbruck in Austria. Tyrolean identity permeated this carrier in the costumes, culture and customer-service, making a great tourism product. The management and staff of this delightful little airline were all cheerfully local, and the essence of Tirol was there whenever you dealt with them. They fought hard against being dissolved into the impersonal flow of a international aviation conglomerate, but corporate efficiency and cost-effectiveness won out. Today, only the memories remain….
Another outstanding airline in this category was the amazing Xinjiang Airlines from the north-western reaches of China. It captured the stunning contrasts that are typical of this great and ageless nation. Xinjiang Airlines guarded ancient traditions with fierce devotion yet was justifiably proud of its ultra-modern technology and equipment. It was 100% Chinese and 100% Muslim, a combination that seems practically impossible; yet something the airline embodied with considerable panache’ and admirable efficiency. Facets of the airline like corporate livery and management personnel seemed indistinguishable from the numerous Chinese airlines existing at that time, but in areas such as operational procedures and in-flight catering the airline proved to be more conservatively Muslim than most well-known flag-carriers of Islamic nations today. It would have been a uniquely effective instrument with which to capture the affluent billion-dollar Islamic tourism market, but once again, an exceptional local carrier has been lost within the cavernous recesses of an international aviation conglomerate.
Local Flavour in Airlines seems to be going out of style in these days of cost-cutting and mergers, but we will continue to keep looking.....
Pix by

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Best Airport For Inter-Departmental Cooperation

The Airport With The Best Inter-Departmental Cooperation we like is the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. Getting the various government departments, security agencies and airport divisions to work as one cohesive administration is the hardest facet of airport management; but what remains a pipe-dream in most places has become a practical reality in this award-winning facility. KLIA has been named Best Airport In The World in its class more than once, and has won awards for various other achievements, including being environmentally-friendly, going wi-fi, and even for having the best airport cigar-shop in the world – but there simply isn’t an award for effective management of synergy between the various government departments such as customs, immigration, police, airport security, fire brigade, labour ministry and civil aviation. The closest there is to an award comes from the International Commercial Aviation Organisation that lauded KLIA in its 2006 Audit Report, stating that “at KLIA there are a number of positive aspects that have led to a higher level of security”, and proceeded to extol “the cooperation among organisations responsible for implementing the security measures”. As an avid airport-watcher, I must say that the cooperation and seamless communication between the various departments at KLIA is an outstanding model for the rest of the world to emulate.
Pix by Malaysia Airports