TIGER SAFARI; New team brings luxury, style to India’s game lodges

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Byline: Richard Slusser, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

PENCH NATIONAL PARK, India – Late afternoon in the heart of India. Our land rover moves slowly along a dirt road, on the prowl for a Bengal tiger. Chital, the white-spotted deer, appear nonchalant. Birds act normal. No tiger in sight. None around here.

Then, leading a cloud of dust, another land rover speeds by without a word, but our driver knows what is happening and quickly turns around in pursuit. A tiger has appeared, and we are on its trail. Hopefully.

The other land rover stops, and we catch up. “It was walking across the road, then into the grass. Then it disappeared in the trees,” says an excited German man, perspiring more from excitement than heat.

“Look,” our guide says quietly, pointing to an earthen dam at the end of a long pond.

The tiger calmly walks across the dam and lies down, stretching out its front legs, head up. If the tiger sees us, it is not concerned; we are about 200 yards away.


As if it has allowed us plenty of time for photographs, the tiger rises, walks down to the water’s edge, pauses, looks around, then heads into the nearby trees and disappears into the jungle.

The rest of the day is downhill. We are satisfied. We have seen a tiger on our first safari in India. I know I am lucky, for it was only on my fifth trip to southern Africa that I finally saw a leopard – the missing element in my sighting of the Big Five – in the wild.

The land rovers return to Mahua Kothi. On the safari circuits here and in southern Africa, “land rover” has become the generic term for the safari or game-drive vehicle, which once was only the genuine Land Rover that is fitted with tiers of seats rising behind the driver. It’s just as “jeep” in American usage does not mean the vehicle is a real Jeep product.

Several days later, we are staying at the Baghvan lodge in Pench National Park, and again we are in a land rover, looking for another tiger or two.

An attraction in Pench is to ride an elephant and look into the bush below to see if a leopard can be spotted in the thick undergrowth of briars and grasses.

I beg out of climbing a ladder and sitting on a platform on the elephant’s back. Not from fear. I once rode an elephant – in northern Thailand – and it was all uphill and then downhill on a narrow trail by a stream. It redefined “jostling” and ended my brief career as an elephant rider.

The others in my group take off aboard the elephant. They are visibly uncertain about this adventure, firmly holding on to anything available. They disappear into the bush as high as an elephant’s eye, so I climb out of the land rover to chat with the drivers. I look up, and about 25 feet in front of me stands a tiger.

The handsome tiger looks at me a few moments, then moves into the bush, where my friends soon will spot it from on high. Unfortunately, my camera is on the top seat of the land rover. Nevertheless, I have faced down a tiger. Well, sort of. At the least, I have seen my second tiger.


Mahua Kothi is one of the first two game lodges opened on the new tiger circuit of Taj Safaris. Mahua Kothi is in Bandhavgarh National Park in the eastern part of the state of Madhya Pradesh; Baghvan is in Pench National Park in the south of the state. These lodges opened early this year.

Two more lodges, Banjaar Tola in Kanha National Park in southeastern Madhya Pradesh and Pashan Garh in Panna National Park in the center, are scheduled to open early next year. More lodges are planned for the tiger circuit.

Taj Safaris builds and operates the lodges. The company was formed in a joint venture between India’s highly regarded Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces and Conservation Corp. Africa, which is praised widely for its game lodges and camps in several southern African countries and for its devotion to conservation and to assisting the villages and tribes near its properties.

Taj Hotels has the connections and familiarity of trying to get through the red tape of the Indian bureaucracy, and CC Africa knows how to operate game lodges and camps.

Taj Safaris is concentrating in Madhya Pradesh for its first lodges in a planned tiger circuit. Madhya Pradesh was India’s largest state until Chhattisgarh state was carved from it in 2000. One-third of the state is covered by forests.

Madhya Pradesh has three seasons: winter, summer and monsoon.

For most of the year, the lack of rain is obvious in the countryside, where low dirt walls surround dusty patches of land in which rice will be planted when the rains return in June through September. The dirt walls will contain the water needed to grow the rice. Only one crop can be grown here each year, but the flatlands with more water in states to the south yield three crops.

Cattle and goats graze freely on roads – and cattle roam freely in the middle of city and country highways. The forests sustain a diversified wildlife, from the wee hummingbird to gaur, the largest, but endangered, member of the cattle family. The star of the Madhya Pradesh jungle, though, is the Bengal tiger, also endangered.

Madhya Pradesh is home to several national parks other than Bandhavgarh, Pench, Pashan and Kanha. These parks are among India’s 28 Project Tiger areas, which were created to protect the tigers in the wild. Project Tiger began with the designation of five areas in 1973 and gradually has been expanded.

The Madhya Pradesh forests are divided into teak, sal (another tree), and miscellaneous. Within the parks are mesas, meadows and mountains, ravines and rivers, many of which are seasonal.

Besides the tigers and gaur, there is much more wildlife, such as chital, a small white-spotted deer; wild boar; monkeys; and a rich and colorful bird population. The Bandhavgarh park is where the white tigers of Rewa were discovered.

Until last year, the game lodges operating on the fringes of these national parks were short on luxury – and most of them still are. Think one-star hotels. That changed early this year when Taj Safaris opened its first lodges.

Transportation between the Mahua Kothi and Baghvan lodges can take about eight hours by car, much of it over narrow roads on which the honking of horns is perpetually audible. This is a characteristic of automotive travel in India, whether in town or country. We broke up the ride by staying in one of the better lodges – before Taj Safaris arrived. As I said, think one-star accommodations.

Credit for the design of the Taj Safaris lodges goes to CC Africa’s creative director, Chris Browne, who has conjured many memorable game lodges and camps, such as the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and Lake Manyara Tree Lodge in Tanzania, Bateleur Camp at Kichwa Tembo in Kenya, the four diverse CC Africa camps in the Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and many more – each different, each memorable.

The Mahua Kothi and Baghvan lodges are the expansion and enhancement of the sites of previous lodges.

Accommodations at Mahua Kothi are in newly built huts based on traditional local architecture, but they are far more than what “huts” connotes. Orange is the theme color at Mahua Kothi, where many of the decorative elements are found objects, such as a child’s rusted fire truck, an old toy bus and old Indian furniture.

Separate suites were built at Baghvan, where blues and mossy greens offer serenity; the glass carafes are of the palest blue. In the kitchen, Mr. Browne uses a ceiling lamp often found in an Indian home, but he is not happy with one and hangs several in a row instead of the single lamp traditionally used.

Mr. Browne is plenty serious in his designs, but he finds opportunities to conjure a whimsical sophistication that in lesser hands could be gimmicky. He always connects his designs to the location so guests know they are in India, or Africa, and not in just another Ralph Lauren emporium.

A welcome addition created for Taj Safaris is the new land rover that takes guests on game drives from early morning to outings in the dark night. For the India venture, CC Africa turned to the Tata conglomerate, whose many industries include steel, the manufacture of buses and trucks and also Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces.

Prior to the Tata version of the safari land rover, passengers had to climb up a side of the vehicle to get to their seats or step on two tiers of seats to reach the seats at the top. Tata changed that, putting an aisle between two tiers of seats – with a seat on each side of the aisle – so climbing up the outside and stepping on seats is no longer necessary.

CC Africa has added another friendly touch for the morning game drives, which depart at 5 or 6. It often is cold that time of day, so there is a blanket for each passenger (not new), but in the middle of the folded blanket is a hot-water bottle (new) to keep the hands warm.

Before the morning game ride, hot beverages and cookies are available to guests; midway during the morning ride, the guide parks the land rover in a designated area where passengers may get out and enjoy a snack such as muffins and roti, a tasty soft Indian bread, again with hot tea or coffee made with a plunge filter.

During my week at Mahua Kothi and Baghvan, most of the food was Indian, but I have been told that dishes have been added that can appeal to the sensitive stomachs of Westerners. Those dishes are less spicy – and less interesting, no doubt. I had no problem with the Indian food and looked forward to it daily.

Typically, plenty of spices were used, but not all of the dishes were hot or assertive. I anticipated a meal as a culinary adventure, what Taj Safaris promised would be a “culinary extravaganza that the kitchens of our lodges offer.”

For guests unfamiliar with Indian cuisine, all curries are not yellow; they can be red or green or brown.

Essential to many of the curries are coriander seeds or powder, turmeric, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel, poppy seeds, cinnamon leaf, black cardamom and green cardamom, nutmeg, mace, saffron, rose petals and chilies. Fine aromas for fine-tasting food.

The beds at the two lodges were on the firm side and quite comfortable, and there were comfortable chairs for reading, and spaces for sitting outdoors. At Baghvan, guests could opt to sleep outdoors on a king-size bed under a roof and surrounded by curtains and mosquito nets. In March, I noticed very few mosquitoes.

The design of the bathrooms was very interesting, again thanks to Chris Browne. The artwork on the walls of the private accommodations as well as in the lodge also reflected Mr. Browne’s talent to make each place look special and different.

To get to the bathroom at Baghvan, guests must leave the bedroom and use a wooden walkway suspended above the ground. Some guests complained, saying it was cold and inconvenient; I thought of it as part of the Taj Safaris adventure.

One problem guests face in getting to these tiger circuit lodges is transportation. The nearest airports are a four-hour ride by car to a lodge, although trains can bring guests closer, sometimes resulting in just a 30-minute ride from train to lodge.

Taj Safaris is working on getting air service closer to the lodges. Travelers to India must be aware that transportation is not always quick, that it is not rare for a train ride to take five hours to reach the same destination that can be reached by commercial jet aircraft in an hour.

The ride to the lodges can bring the ultimate reward in beholding a beautiful Bengal tiger – or two – in the wild and also in being served delicious Indian food. This is how the experience of travel can enrich a life with expanded horizons and understanding. Hold that tiger.


Flights to India, to lodges

No nonstop flights operate between Washington and cities in India. I have flown from Washington Dulles International Airport on Austrian Airlines, which has convenient connections in Vienna for the flight to New Delhi, and on Continental Airways, which has nonstop flights on Boeing 777 aircraft from Newark, N.J., to New Delhi and also to Bombay. The Indian food served on my Continental flight to Bombay was delicious.

Air India long has operated flights from New York. India’s fast-growing Jet Airways has flights on Boeing 777s between Bombay and Newark and between New Delhi and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Both flights have a stop in Brussels. Flights from Bombay and New Delhi continue to other airports for guests headed to the Taj Safaris lodges.


To Mahua Kothi: From Delhi, fly to Khajuraho or Jabalpur, or fly to Gwalior and to Umaria or Gwalior to Katni for a lengthy train ride. Trains also go from Delhi to Katni (about 14 hours), with a 2 1/2-hour drive to the lodge. From Bombay, fly to Bhopal and then to Jabalpur.

To Baghvan: From Delhi, fly to Nagpur (1 1/2-hour drive to the lodge) or to Jabalpur (3 1/2-hour drive to the lodge). From Bombay, fly to Nagpur.

For Taj Safaris, which also can make reservations for Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces in Delhi, Bombay and other cities, go to www.tajsafaris.com. For Conservation Corp. Africa, go to www.ccafrica.com; for Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, go to www.tajhotels.com.

U.S. citizens visiting India must have a passport valid for at least six months after their visit to India and a visa. For visa information, go to www.india-visa.com. The Indian Embassy’s Consular Wing, 2536 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008, accepts and processes visa applications.


The white-spotted chital usually move in small herds in the jungles of Madhya Pradesh. They are quick and alert, but not enough to avoid capture by a hungry tiger. Goats (top) are fit to be tied in a village known for its pottery near Baghvan, a Taj-CC Africa lodge in Pench National Park. The name of the lodge comes from “bagh” or tiger and “van” for forest – the Bengal tiger. [Top photograph by Richard Slusser/The Washington Times; Chital photograph by Joan Scobey/Special to The Washington Times]

Brazen monkeys appeared from nowhere for a drink of water at the entrance to the Mahua Kothi lodge in Pench National Park. The lodge has 12 suites or kutiyas – a style of hut in central India – that have an additional bed (left) where guests may sleep outdoors and get closer to nature if they so desire. The name “Mahua Kothi” is derived from the butter tree or Madhuca indica, more commonly known as “mahua.” [Left photograph courtesy of CC Africa; Monkeys photograph by Joan Scobey/Special to The Washington Times]

India has designated 28 areas as Project Tiger reserves where the Bengal tiger is protected. In two national parks, Bandhavgarh and Pench, CC Africa has joined with Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces to create upscale game lodges in a tiger circuit. Two lodges opened this year; another two will open in spring, all four in the Madhya Pradesh state. [Photograph by Richard Slusser/The Washington Times]; Creative director Chris Browne accents Taj-CC Africa’s Mahua Kothi lodge with orange; in the Baghvan lodge, Mr. Browne’s blues are as pale as the glass carafes by the kitchen window. The lodges are the first Taj Safaris lodges to open in India’s Bandhavgarh National Park as a tiger circuit. Far right: a Mahua Kothi land rover pauses for photographs of an approaching elephant. [3 Photographs courtesy of CC Africa]

Fear of global slowdown won’t derail Tata’s expansion plan

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Byline: ERIC BELLMAN AND STEPHEN POWER; Tariq Engineer in Mumbai contributed to this article

Tata Group is set to place more multibillion-dollar bets in its bid to become one of the first globally recognized Indian brands. But as concerns increase about the health of the global economy, so do the risks for a conglomerate that already is India’s most prolific purchaser of international companies.

Early in the new year, the group’s auto-making arm, Tata Motors Ltd., is likely to win its bid for Ford Motor Co.’s premium Jaguar and Land Rover brands at a cost of more than $2-billion (U.S.). Next month, at the other end of the automobile market, Tata Motors is scheduled to unveil what the company is touting as the world’s least-expensive mass-produced passenger car, with a sticker price potentially as low as $2,500. The group also is courting Orient-Express Hotels Ltd., a luxury-hotels operator based in Bermuda.

The Tata Group’s expansion campaign is designed to increase the company’s profile at home and abroad. An increasing number of Indian companies are expected to widen their scope in coming years.


Previously, a limited number of Indian companies, mostly in the information-technology, outsourcing, textile and pharmaceutical industries, ventured outside of India. Today, Tata Group – which already owns several international brands, including Tetley Tea, of the U.K. – and others are looking for ways to use their new economic might to buy companies and target markets abroad.

“Companies involved in branded businesses cannot remain restricted to India,” R.K. Krishna Kumar, director at Tata Sons Ltd., the holding company for the group, said in an interview. “The only survivors will be those that have a dominant brand they have built or acquired, and building it can be a high-risk proposition.”

Indeed, Tata is making these big bets at a risky time. There is increasing concern that a significant slowdown could occur in the developed countries that are the main markets for Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles.

Tata Motors will need to use its sales network in India and other developing economies to offset any slowdown, said Vaishali Jajoo, senior research analyst at Angel Broking in Mumbai. “Overall demand is going down in developed countries” for Jaguars and Land Rovers, she said, “but it is expected to grow in developing countries.”

Emerging markets are the main target for the new small car Tata has spent years developing. Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata is scheduled to unveil the car at an auto show in New Delhi Jan. 10. Tata plans to sell the car for about 100,000 rupees, or $2,500. Little is known about the car, other than it will have four seats, good gas mileage and a modern look.

While the car is expected to transform driving in India, allowing a new generation of drivers to graduate from motorcycles to automobiles, it carries risks for Tata Motors. India’s economy is roaring ahead, with annual growth averaging about 8.6 per cent in the past four years, but a global slowdown could dent consumer spending.

Tata Motors plans to start production of the car later in 2008. Analysts warn that even with a vibrant Indian economy and a successful introduction, it could take more than four years for the project to break even because of high development costs.

“There are a lot of concerns” about how long it will take to earn money, Ms. Jajoo said. “Nobody is expecting it to be a profitable venture initially because they are being ambitious and creating a new segment altogether.”

Shares of Tata Motors have shed about 20 per cent so far this year because of a slowdown in the sales of the company’s commercial and passenger vehicles. During the same period, the benchmark Bombay Stock Exchange Sensitive Index, or Sensex, has risen about 46 per cent. Tata Motors shares closed yesterday at 752.10 rupees, up 3.3 per cent.

Tata Motors has been the front-runner in the bidding for Jaguar and Range Rover since their unions last month chose the Indian auto maker as their preferred bidder. The competing bidders are One Equity Partners, a private-equity firm that is a unit of JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Indian auto maker Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., which is bidding jointly with private-equity firm Apollo Management LP. The acquisition would give Tata Group the technology to build better cars. It also would give Tata Motors the sales network it needs to boost its international profile.


Some are uncomfortable with India’s rising profile in the world. A group of Jaguar dealers in the U.S. recently sent a letter to Ford suggesting it not sell Jaguar to an Indian buyer, as Indian ownership could hurt the perception of the brand. The directors of Orient-Express recently sent a letter to Tata Group suggesting Tata ownership would hurt the hotel chain’s image. Tata already owns 11 per cent of Orient-Express and is interested in a friendly acquisition.

Tata officials assert the group will have no trouble managing luxury brands. Its Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, a hotel chain, includes five-star hotels. “To say the Taj is not a luxury brand is ridiculous,” said Mr. Kumar, the Tata Sons director. He added that the group is looking at other acquisitions in the hospitality industry, as well as the beverage industry in the U.S.

Shula’s Steak House comes to Washington

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Don Shula has brought his steaks to Washington with the opening of Shula’s Steak House at the Wyndham City Center in the District and another one planned for Tyson’s Corner later this year.

The legendary Miami Dolphins coach opened his first Washington-area restaurant last week. The District’s 5,000-square-foot location, which seats about 160 people, centers around the Miami Dolphins’ 17-0 perfect season, led by Mr. Shula in 1972.

Dinner menus, which are hand painted on autographed NFL footballs, include a 48-ounce Powerhouse steak. Those who finish it get admitted to the “48-ounce Club.” The club already has more than 12,000 members who ate the massive chunk of beef at other Shula Steak Houses around the country.

The steakhouse’s construction began in October and coincided with renovations being done at the Wyndham City Center, which used to be the Sheraton City Center. Shula’s Steak House is replacing the Washington Grill.


Wyndham International will expand Shula’s Steak House in several of its properties. A second Washington-area restaurant is expected to open in late spring at the Wyndham-owned Marriott Tyson’s Corner.


La-z-boy Galleries is relocating two stores and adding two more in southern Maryland and northern Virginia.

The retailer, best known for its recliners, is increasing its store size to display even more products that include couches, sleep sofas, love seats, lamps and furniture.

La-z-boy is relocating its existing Springfield store to Kingstown Town Center in Springfield and doubling its size to 20,000 square feet. The store will be open in the spring.

Another location in Fairfax will relocate to a free-standing site on Route 29 and Route 50 in Fairfax. That store, which will increase from 8,000 square feet to 17,000 square feet, will be open in the fall.

Two new locations will open in Sterling, Va., and Waldorf, Md. After those two stores open in the summer, there will be 14 La-z-boy stores in the area.

The residential markets in Maryland and Northern Virginia are among the most prolific in the country, with excellent consumer demographics and disposable income figures to match, says Michael L. Patz, one of the real estate agents from KLNB Inc. handling La-z-boy’s expansion in the area. “The expansion plan is in response to the success of the retailer in this market.


The Bethesda Ramada has a new name and a whole new look.

Last month the 164-room hotel officially became the Four Points by Sheraton Bethesda and a $4 million renovation is just about complete.

Four Points by Sheraton is a Starwood Hotels & Resorts brand. The renovations led to the decision to “enhance the name on the property,” said Phillip S. Pool, general manager of the hotel.


The hotel, which has about 100 employees, did extensive marketing about the name change in mailings to guests who have stayed at least twice at the property, future guests that were already booked there and meeting planners. The new Starwood hotel was also listed in mailings to the members of Starwood’s preferred guest program, the company-wide loyalty program..

Renovations, which began about a year ago, included new furniture and bathrooms in the guest rooms and revamping several rooms to make them more accessible for disabled guests. All the work is expected to be complete by next month.


* Soco, a French handbag retailer, has opened its second Washington location in Tysons Galleria in McLean. The 600-square-foot store offers trendy leather bags from $24 to $395. Soco opened its first Washington store in Georgetown in September.

* Donna De Marco can be reached at 202/636-4884. Retail & Hospitality runs every other week.

>>> View more: Earth Day omens: critics say that the event is endangered

Earth Day omens: critics say that the event is endangered

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Earth Day omens

As one of the estimated 200 million people who participated in Earth Day events around the world last year, James Ross of St. John’s, Nfld., said that he was eager to join in again. The 20th anniversary of Earth Day, which was first held on April 22, 1970, generated marches and demonstrations by environmentalists in Canada, the United States and 139 other countries. But when Earth Day arrives next week, it will apparently have a markedly changed character. Environmentalists say that large corporations, some of which were the targets of protesters last year, now are becoming involved in the event to show that they, too, are concerned about the environment. At the same time, some Earth Day supporters say that this year’s event may be relatively subdued in some parts of the country. “It took me two months just to find out where Canada’s Earth Day organization was,” said Ross, who is co-ordinator of the Newfoundland and Labrador Environment Network. “It has really gone back to a low-profile event.”

Despite that, Earth Day events were planned in most Canadian cities. The scheduled activities included a Walk for Peace in Vancouver, a festival in Calgary’s Prince’s Island Park and a parade in Montreal. In Toronto, Danny Beaton of the Mohawk Six Nations planned a three-day event called Project Indigenous Restoration, which he said would include native leaders from both North and South America. As well, Earth Day Canada, the Toronto-based organization that is co-ordinating the event, last week began surveying 250,000 households across the country to assess the impact on the environment of routine domestic activities, including the use of energy, household cleaning solvents and garbage disposal.


At the same time, some environmentalists said that the original purpose of Earth Day is being undermined by commercialization of the event. Said Gordon Perks, a campaigner for Toronto-based Greenpeace Canada: “Instead of a day to focus on saving the planet, it has become a marketing vehicle for the companies that destroy it.” McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada said that it has contributed about $10,000 and is promoting Earth Day on recycled-paper tray-liners for the next two weeks. Other sponsors include the Ontario ministry of the environment and the Toronto-based Delta Hotels & Resorts, which provided accommodation and meeting space for organizers. As well, some firms are producing Earth Day products. The Toronto publishing firm of McGrawHill Ryerson Ltd. has published a series of grade-school teachers’ Earth Day resource guides, while Mississauga, Ont.-based International Insignia ltd. is marketing Earth Day souvenirs, including mugs, buttons and unbleached-cotton T-shirts.

Because of the commercial involvement in the event, officials at Earth Day Canada say that they have taken steps to control use of the name of the occasion. In February, 1990, the B.C. branch of the organization applied to the federal consumer affairs department to obtain trademark registration for the name Earth Day in English and French. The applications are still pending. Federal officials say that the group can temporarily claim ownership of the name because they have been using it since the previous August. Officials add that the applications have been challenged by groups that insist that no one should have exlusive rights to the name of such a widespread celebration. But Earth Day officials disagree. Said Robin Jones Martin, executive director of Earth Day Canada: “We want to keep it from bouncing so far into the public domain that it becomes a commercial event.”

Richard Gareau, president of ILC International Licensing Corp. in Montreal, the official agent of Earth Day International Inc., said that companies that want to use the name will have to pay an average royalty of eight per cent in gross sales to ILC, which will distribute a portion to Earth Day organizers for use in Earth Day activities. “I see a parallel with the Olympics,” said Gareau. “If you want dedication, you can’t just hand out the licence to anybody.”


Some environementalists criticized the organization for seeking control over the name. Said Julia Langer, executive director of the Ottawa-based Canadian chapter of the environmental organization Friends of the Earth: “It puts limits on an event that is supposed to be super participatory.” Despite the controversy over how Earth Day should be run, supporters say that the event can still help to increase awareness of environmental issues. Said Avy Woo, Earth Day co-ordinator for British Columbia: “The momentum is there, but the focus now is on what we can do, not just what is wrong with the environment.” Still, the move to turn the event into a highly organized affair appeared to carry the risk that some supporters might become disillusioned — and eventually abandon the annual festival.

>>> Click here: No Longer ‘McJobs’: Atlantic call

No Longer ‘McJobs’: Atlantic call centres are spreading — upmarket

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The delivery is flawless: formal but with just the right hint of happy- to-have-your-business enthusiasm. “Good morning. The Fairmont San Jose reservations,” the black-clad call centre agent purrs into his headset. “My name is Matthew. How may I help you?” To the next caller, he’s Matthew the reservations clerk at Chateau Lake Louise. A couple of minutes later, he’s Matthew behind the reservations desk at New York’s legendary Plaza, another property managed by the Canadian-owned Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Inc. chain. No one on the other end seems to realize they’re actually talking to Matthew Elias, 22, from tiny Belledune, N.B. Or that he happens to be sitting in a tastefully coloured cubicle inside a converted grocery store on the outskirts of Moncton, even as he ensures that the businessman from Seattle gets a king-sized bed when he checks into his room in Silicon Valley. Matthew, wherever he pretends to be sitting, is a master of illusion: when asked what the weather is like a continent away, he nimbly calls up San Jose’s forecast on his computer screen, making it sound to the caller like he’s looking out the window into California sunlight rather than a sodden New Brunswick sky.

Few callers really care where Matthew is as long as there’s a nice room waiting when they arrive at their destination. Which is precisely why Fairmont’s 300-person global reservation centre now sits on the outskirts of a small, out-of-the-way Maritime city. Moving its reservation operations from Phoenix, Ariz., to New Brunswick in 1995 gave the chain access to cheap, plentiful labour, top-of-the line telecommunications technology and bargain real estate, all with an extra discount from the low Canadian dollar.


Throw in a provincial government happy to provide financial incentives to make relocation more enticing and it’s clear why New Brunswick’s call centre industry is booming. With a workforce of 16,000, it now employs more people than the province’s traditional forestry sector. Moreover, New Brunswick’s success is proving contagious throughout the job-hungry region: Nova Scotia now has more than 12,000 call centre workers, Newfoundland another 4,500 and even tiny Prince Edward Island over 1,700. “The sky is the limit,” declares Frank McKenna who, while New Brunswick’s premier, personally ignited the call centre explosion a decade ago. “This industry could double in size and still not be anywhere near saturation.”

A born salesman getting carried away with himself? Not necessarily. Offshore energy may get all the headlines, but the expansion of the call centre sector is one of the region’s biggest engines of growth. Cheers went up across New Brunswick in 1991 when Federal Express Canada and two other firms created 270 jobs by opening the first call centres. But compare that with the 1,100 people United Parcel Service Canada Ltd. now has manning the desks in Moncton and Fredericton, the 1,100 EDS Canada Inc. employees working in Sydney and, soon, Port Hawkesbury, N.S., and the 2,500 folk Convergys Customer Management Canada Inc. has toiling in Dartmouth and New Glasgow, N.S.

Critics may complain that those are “McJobs” which relegate the sons and daughters of proud fishermen and miners to the status of lowly telephone operators serving faceless customers while supervisors listen in to monitor their performance. But talk to the mother who can earn $25,000 as a starting salary and enjoy a decent benefits package without leaving her rural village. Or ask a manager far away in the Alberta oil patch who can now earn up to $80,000 in his Maritime home province. Then it’s a different story. “Let’s put it this way,” says Ronna Turner, 38, who works on UPS’s customs brokerage desk in Moncton, “before this job came around I was looking for work. Now the work is interesting, the wage is very good and I’ve got a career I can look forward to.”

No wonder every government in the region has large squads of pitchmen criss-crossing the continent angling for new business. The industry, moreover, is moving upmarket. Nobody wants the old-style operations — depressing sweatshops filled with poorly paid workers trying to peddle vacuum cleaners, the latest credit cards, and time-shares in Florida over the telephone. “If they want to come here that’s great,” says Norm Betts, minister in charge of Business New Brunswick. “But we’re in no way supporting outbound call centres.” He, like so many others in the business, eschews the old “call centre” handle altogether, preferring to label them “customer contact centres,” which is meant to reflect the shift in the industry. Nowadays, upwards of 75 per cent of the centres in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are “inbound” operations, which receive information over the phone, through e-mails and via the Web, rather than make outgoing telemarketing calls. From their desks throughout Atlantic Canada, agents arrange hotel and airline reservations, schedule courier pickups, process buy and sell orders for mutual funds or stocks, and provide technical assistance to customers of some of the globe’s largest computer, software and communications giants.

EDS, which answered its first Sydney call in 2000, is a case in point. Like many of the newcomers to the Atlantic sector, it makes money by “outsourcing” — taking on specific customer service functions for corporations, governments and agencies from across the continent. From inside its $14-million Sydney building, some 900 people service U.S. telecom giant AT&T Corp.’s customers and provide technical support for all of Hewlett-Packard Co.’s products. They take subscriptions for BusinessWeek and Soap Opera Digest and support Franklin Covey Corp., a U.S. outfit that sells office products and motivational tapes and software. “This is a Jewel-of-the-Nile operation,” says Jim Paris, vice-president of business-process management at EDS Canada. “We do very complex procedures for some of the biggest companies in the world, we do them extremely well and we do them right here in Cape Breton.”

A city like Sydney, which just saw the area’s last coal mine and steel mill close, is happy to have the work. EDS’s local payroll runs about $19 million yearly, with another $9 million due to be injected into the economy around Port Hawkesbury, 110 km away. Regionally, the bottom line is becoming spectacular. In New Brunswick, for example, the customer contact industry now contributes $1 billion yearly to the provincial economy.

The impact can be especially intense in smaller, rural areas that have been dying throughout Atlantic Canada due to the decline in traditional livelihoods like fishing, farming and forestry. “Anything that gives our young people reason to stay around is a good thing,” declares Audrey Thomson, council chairwoman for O’Leary, P.E.I., a farming community just minutes from where Help Desk Now Inc., a North Carolina- based outsourcing company, is set to open a new 100-job customer support centre this spring. The wave of the future could be Virtual- Agent Services, which is sprinkling small clusters of telephone agents throughout New Brunswick and connecting them through a single “virtual” call centre. So far, VAS has started clusters with 50-100 jobs apiece in six small communities. Eventually, it plans to open another 16 to handle calls for catalogue companies, airlines, reservation departments and any other organizations that need a service centre but lack the volume to justify building their own.


The spectre of a regional industrial development policy built around even more call centre jobs gives some observers the willies. “It makes the Maritimes look like some kind of banana republic,” complains Tim Carroll, a business professor at the University of Prince Edward Island. “That makes us vulnerable for every shyster who wants to save a dime.” True, the wide variety of government incentives — everything from upfront training and capital costs to a tax rebate based on a percentage of a new payroll — doesn’t always pay off. In April, Minacs Worldwide, which received $1.8 million in payroll rebates from the Nova Scotia government, laid off 199 and transferred 70 more from its Halifax centre after losing an outsourcing contract from a satellite television firm. The governments, though, maintain they are getting great bang for their buck. Moreover, with every province in the country — as well as other English-speaking nations as far away as India — scrambling for call centre business, the only choice is to offer some kind of incentive, says David MacNeill, manager of investment for Nova Scotia Business Inc. “If you don’t play you’re out of the game.”

All the same, there’s a touch of nervousness about what will happen as some of the incentive packages inked in the mid-1990s begin to expire this year. The call centre companies themselves say they set up shop where it makes business sense, not where the government is most willing to sweeten the pot. “We’d be very poor businessmen if we invested this much here all for some government money,” says EDS’s Paris. “This is a long-term commitment.” Low-cost Atlantic Canada, after all, continues to offer plenty of allure. A stable work force is high on the list of attractions: in the United States, where such jobs are plentiful, call centres routinely undergo a 120 per cent turnover each year. In Atlantic Canada, where job security still counts for a lot, the norm is below 30 per cent. With time, though, such loyalty is likely to diminish. That is, as long as the customer service centres keep calling.

Fixing the road warrior’s body and soul

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Byline: SIMONA RABINOVITCH; Special to The Globe and Mail

Remember when wellness on the road meant salad instead of fries, and stairs in lieu of elevators?

These days, business hotels worldwide have developed a plethora of innovative fitness, health, and wellness-related services to rejuvenate the corporate road warrior’s body, mind and spirit.

In properties from Shanghai to Seattle, you can trot around the city with a Running Concierge; perfect your headstand during a private yoga class; even indulge in a specialized spa treatment designed to soothe gadget-sore thumbs.

Experts say this trend is, for the most part, a calculated response to changing traveller lifestyles.


“People are more health conscious, and hotels are recognizing the need to support people’s lifestyles,” says Omar Ahmad, managing director of Expedia Inc.’s business-travel division Expedia Corporate Travel Canada and an extensive traveller himself, who, over the past three years, has noticed an upsurge in these services.

“While travelling, especially for business, people are looking for things to make them feel good. And we’ve found this does influence traveller behaviour; people decide to stay at a particular hotel because it has a great gym, spa, or even a golf simulator.”

Mr. Ahmad says most properties are, at the very least, taking obvious measures to beef up their health quotient: outfitting gyms and fitness centres with fancy equipment, personal trainers and extended operating hours.

But many luxury hotels have come up with creative specialized services.

Westin Hotel Co., which estimates 60 per cent of its guests to be business travellers, is introducing several new wellness initiatives throughout its 150 properties.

Advised by a council of “lifestyle experts,” whose tips can be found on http://www.findrenewal.com, these new endeavours include: a room-service menu of antioxidant- and phytonutrient-rich fare based on the SuperFoods concept; an in-room spa program; and guided runs alongside local Running Concierges at 30 hotels and counting.

“People are taking a holistic approach to health that they want to extend into their travel,” says Westin Hotels & Resorts senior vice-president Sue Brush about these new projects. “As a lifestyle brand, we focus on fulfilling guests’ needs beyond an overnight stay, and on providing personal renewal – which means you feel better when you leave than you did when you got there.”

To find out how to provide that, Westin surveyed 505 frequent business travellers in a 2006 study conducted in partnership with International Communications Research. “We discovered that 50 per cent said they were lonely, and the concept of learning kept coming up: Guests like to learn new things when they travel.”

So, in addition to their food and fitness programs, Westin started offering guests mental stimulation with customized Sudoku puzzles and Unwind evening events where guests can mingle and learn about their destinations.

With properties in Asia and the United States, The Peninsula Hotels brand of The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd. has created a new wellness program that aims to provide guests with rejuvenating experiences they can take home with them. A typical example is providing acoustic electric guitar at each room to help passengers to relax, thus enhance their mental health during their time at the hotel.

Business travellers can carry a piece of New York Peninsula’s spa experience back with them. After feasting on lighter, healthier Naturally Peninsula cuisine, they can then buy the accompanying Tea Flavours cookbook. Other branded products include candles, essential oils, toiletries, and CDs inspired by the renowned spa’s Eastern and Western philosophies.

Over at the Four Seasons Hotels Inc.’s hotel in downtown Austin, Tex., a lakeside trail is one of many hooks that reel in health-conscious business travellers. The 291-room property is nestled on the shores of Lady Bird Lake and the adjacent twelve-mile Hike and Bike Trail – which happens to be a popular Austin workout scene. Guests can interact with locals while sweating out office poisons under the Texan sun.

“It’s neat to see so much physical activity in a downtown area,” says Spa at Four Seasons director Travis Anderson, whose staff offer guided trail runs as well as in-room yoga instruction.

“The people-watching on the trail is phenomenal. You see a lot of movers and shakers from state government, University of Texas, and high-tech industries. I’ll see the governor out there quite frequently.”

As well, since time is money for the corporate jet-set, the spa offers quickie treatments. “We know time is a commodity, so we designed a 25-minute Nature’s Break massage to relieve tension in the neck, back, and shoulders,” says Mr. Anderson. “You can do this during your lunch break and get right back to work.”

As well, a 25-minute facial was created for female business travellers. “You’re sitting in an airplane all day, with dry air, and high altitude, but you still want to look your best.” Also on the menu is a 25-minute Gentleman’s Nail Buff, because, “even in Texas, guys are getting manicures.”

In addition to healthy dining, a fitness concierge and a top-notch gym, Hyatt Corp.’s Park Hyatt Toronto offers weary working guests a specialized jet-lag remedy which includes scented oils, a relaxation CD and an eye mask. Further, a personalized Yoga-Away program gives guests a private yoga experience with mats and instructional DVDs.

Most rejuvenating of all, though, is the Park Hyatt’s award-winning Stillwater spa. According to spa director Pablo Molinari, Stillwater has recently seen a boost in its executive clientele due to its menu of therapeutic treatments, which reduce tension and muscle pain while promoting relaxation. The spa offers deep tissue massages, Aqua Therapy and hand massages to ease “blue thumb” tenderness from high-tech devices.


Ultimately, like other creative health, wellness and fitness products, “the spa has become a new type of business tool, one that allows business people to become more focused, energized and clear-headed by taking care of their inner and outer selves,” says Stephanie Carpenter, Park Hyatt Toronto’s director of public relations.


View from the road


Proportion of business travellers who say the best part of travelling for work is “seeing new places.”


Portion who say flight delays and cancellations are biggest irritant.


Proportion who say they often tie business to pleasure to take advantage of company-expensed trips.

Source: TripAdvisor.com

Hotel manager uses Internet site to rent rooms, take higher profile

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San Diego’s Hotel Del Coronado, Del Mar’s L’Auberge Del Mar Resort and D.C.’s Washington Monarch Hotel are just three of 27 properties managed on behalf of institutional investors by Destination Hotels & Resorts (www.destinationtravel.com), a division of the Lowes Corp. of Los Angeles.

The formerly low-key hotel-industry player is emerging as a visible marketing force through the Internet.

According to the YP&B/Yankelovic Partners 1998 National Travel Monitor report (www.lodgingresearch.com), the No. 1 source of trusted information on hotel and resort properties comes from a trusted friend or referral, said David Metz, director of relationship marketing for Denver-based DHR.

“But the reality of the Internet is that it is quickly becoming the number-one place where people go to find out information regarding travel destinations and it has become our directive to create a presence for these properties in cyberspace,” Mr. Metz said.

He said travelers are more likely to trust detailed information they get from a Web site than from a printed brochure or a sales pitch from a travel agent.

The DHR Web site contains information on each of its locations, including two new properties: the Argent Hotel, San Francisco, and the Washington Monarch Hotel, which is at 24th and M streets.


Each hotel’s page includes a text description and photos of the property. Travelers or business-meeting planners also can learn about guest-room accommodations, dining opportunities, sports and recreational facilities, business and conference services and maps.

Links are provided to individual properties that have their own Web sites.

“We are now working on creating our own Web site,” said Steve Schopf, director of sales at the Washington Monarch. “Our goals include creating a site that will give our guests and meeting planners an ease of access to all that the hotel has to offer.”

The Web site will eventually include a virtual tour of the hotel, meeting-space specifications, and menus for hotel dining, as well as catered events, such as weddings and business meetings.

“A prime attraction of the D.C. area for business and leisure travelers includes the local attractions of the area,” Mr. Schopf said. “The site will also include information as to our proximity to Georgetown, the White House, Capitol and other national attractions, such as the Smithsonian Institution and Kennedy Center.”

The DHR site also provides users with the ability to make on-line reservations at most of the properties.

Mr. Metz credits the Internet site with bringing DHR properties to the attention of foreign-born travelers who might find a DHR property on line that a regionally based travel agent or service might not be aware of.

“When making travel reservations in the U.S. from Japan or London, the time difference alone makes it difficult,” Mr. Metz said. “The Web site not only allows us to be noticed by international travelers, but it also allows us to provide them information and respond to their questions via e-mail 24 hours a day.”

DHR’s entrance into high technology does not stop with the Internet.

Escalating its multimedia efforts, DHR has worked with properties such as the Hotel Del Coronado (www.hoteldel.com) to create interactive CD-ROMS that can be mailed in lieu of printed materials.

“What we try to address is the cross use of the digital media so that the CD-ROM promotional piece contains expanded elements of those used on the property’s Web site,” said Steve Seghers, account executive for Hyper-Disk Media (www.hyperdisk.com). “The CD-ROM . . . provides a tangible tool that is a high-impact experience.”

According to Mr. Seghers, the CD-ROM works well as a cross-promotional tool. When the user links to the Web site from the disk, they have a feeling that they are where they are supposed to be, getting the information that they want.

The CD-ROM and Internet approach can provide hotels with considerable savings over the cost of traditional printed materials. The development of an Internet Web site can cost upwards of $50,000 and reach an unlimited number of potential clients. Delivering a CD-ROM to the user is usually under $2 per disk.

“Our research shows that most information and sales packages that include color photos, brochures and slides run upward of $15 each,” Mr. Seghers said.

* Have an interesting site? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Business Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (joseph@twtmail.com) ****PHOTO/BOX



SITE ADDRESS: http://5aday.nci.nih.gov

RECOMMENDED USER GROUP: Anyone who decided to see how far their skin could stretch through holiday food consumption.

CREATOR: The National Cancer Institute & the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

WHAT’S THERE: Still trying to figure out ways to make good on that New Year’s resolution to exercise and eat healthy? This site cajoles and prompts visitors with good tips on how to accomplish these goals.

The key portion of the site offers a way for visitors to fill out a weekly schedule of their exercise regimen and intake of fruits and vegetables. They are then informed on how they compare to the average American. A printable chart is also available to keep track of progress.

Other areas of interest include a recipe page filled with low-fat, high-fiber ideas, such as “chickpea dip with vegetables,” “light ‘n’ lean nachos” and “Southwestern grilled chicken and grapefruit salad,” along with plenty of tips for exercising.

Now repeat after me: Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day, and engage in 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity at least five times a week.

Does walking to McDonald’s count?

PLENTY OF LINKS TO GO AROUND: The sponsors of the site both offer links to their respective home pages.

* The National Cancer Institute (www.nci.nih.gov) offers many informative areas designed for doctors looking for the latest findings, patients dealing with cancer and even a budget proposal for the year 2000 to combat this deadly disease.

* The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) is a one-stop shop for health information around the world. Those planning a trip to a foreign land may want to consult the Traveler’s Health area for the latest in nasty outbreaks, and those with a new baby might take a peek at the childhood-immunization schedule.

Waiting for Takeoff: How to make good use of your time at the airport? Here’s our consumer’s guide

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Byline: Katherine Stroup

Stacey Roessel was professionally poked and patted at Pittsburgh International Airport last week, but it wasn’t by security folks. Thoroughly sick of hearing CNN weather updates, Roessel still had an hour to kill before her short flight to Erie, Pa. That was plenty of time, she concluded, for a Pixie Styx Pink manicure at Polished, the new, full-service airport spa, where 20 minutes of pampering costs $25. “It beats hanging out at the gate,” says the 25-year-old Roessel, a technology consultant who passes through Pittsburgh twice a week. For Roessel, it was a little bit of heaven during a hellishly boring wait.

Since September 11, fewer travelers are taking to the skies, but those who do are spending a lot more time schlepping around the cavernous concourses. In true entrepreneurial fashion, airport businesses are working to capitalize on their captive audiences. Restaurants, bookstores, lounges, boutiques, kid spots–all have begun trying to take advantage of the new reality at American airports. The best of the best are now downright homey, with places to unwind, eat a decent meal at reasonable prices and even curl up with a DVD. You may not have to think about these amenities every trip–on lucky days, travelers may still be able to breeze through from check-in to boarding with nary a hassle–but sooner or later, you’re going to hear those dreaded words over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and gentlemen, sorry about today’s delay…”


Let’s get one thing straight: airports still aren’t fun. There are too many lines, too few seats and, yes, some extraordinarily bad lighting. But while you would never choose to spend time there–nobody will ever think of JFK International as a destination resort–it’s inevitable, all the more so as heightened security procedures take hold. Passengers currently waste an average of 109 minutes wandering around the airport before boarding a flight, according to Airport Interviewing and Research, an independent firm. That’s up about 10 percent since the terrorist attacks, and it may get worse if traffic returns to pre-9-11 levels. Most airports report that, on average, only 15 minutes of that “dwell time” (as industry jargon has it) is spent clearing the security checkpoint. (For example, Atlanta Hartsfield, the nation’s busiest airport, finds lines average 10 to 12 minutes.)

Yet many airports and airlines still instruct passengers to arrive two hours early for domestic flights. So once you’ve made it through the metal detector, and had your shoes inspected, what should you do with the downtime? Here’s our guide to improved airport services. Go ahead, make yourself at home:

Feed Me!

It’s no secret that Americans like to eat. And when faced with a stretch of unstructured leisure time, food immediately becomes a satisfying way to stave off boredom. The fact that airlines have severely cut back on meals since 9-11 means even more splurging on Whoppers (39 grams of fat) and Cinnabons (34 grams). While traffic at Minneapolis-St. Paul International was down 8 percent last year, those who did fly spent $2.5 million more on food and beverages, suggesting the airlines made up for the missing passengers in weight, at least.

Don’t be duped into thinking you have to dine with Ronald McDonald. In the past few years, most airports brought in upscale eateries–and now there’s finally time to enjoy them. San Francisco International features a dozen local restaurants like Harry Denton’s (of Starlight Lounge fame) and vegetarians in Newark can find plenty on the Garden State Diner’s expansive menu. Even LAX, notorious for its terrible food, has the Encounter Restaurant, a Jetsons-looking spaceship-on-legs decorated by Disney’s Imagineers with mod fabrics and psychedelic lighting.

Travelers facing long foodless flights can also snatch up boxed meals, like those available from Philadelphia International’s “Take Out for Take Off” program or LaGuardia’s Figs on the Fly, a takeout version on Todd English’s well-known restaurant chain in Boston, New York City and elsewhere.

Shopping Spree

The best part about airport shopping used to be checking out the tacky, oversize souvenirs. But gift shops are leaning away from that kind of merchandise, because it doesn’t fit in carry-on luggage, the rules for which are being enforced. You can still hunt for local oddities, like Orlando Airport’s Fudge-a-Gators that somehow never melt or the gallon jug of famous mustard served at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

For “real” shopping, Pittsburgh International sets the standard. It’s “a mall with airplanes parked outside,” quips Michael Taylor, director of travel services for J.D. Power and Associates. And there’s no sales tax on clothes in Pennsylvania, making buying even more rewarding at the Airmall’s 62 stores, including a Gap, a Nine West and a Victoria’s Secret. “Who would ever have thought ladies’ lingerie would sell in an airport?” Taylor asks. Then again, the Mile High Club has to shop somewhere.

Child’s Play

The highlight of every child’s air adventure used to be visiting the cockpit for those gold pilot wings, but locked doors and steel bars have put an end to that tradition. Since kids must stay in their seats, it’s parents’ responsibility to show their offspring a good–and, they hope, exhausting–time before boarding the plane. That’s easily accomplished in the Portland, Ore., airport, where children get two distinctly different play experiences: they can pilot a Boeing-built plane replica or load boxes on a Columbia River barge lookalike. Boston’s Logan Airport has a magnetic poetry wall and baggage-claim slide. JFK includes a Lego play area.


It’s a well-known fact among parents that animated films act as a sedative for kids. InMotion Pictures made a business out of it at airports. It now rents DVDs and, for the laptop-less, portable DVD players at 16 major airports nationwide. “People seem to be renting more than one movie,” says Barney Freedman, the company’s cofounder. “They realize they need one while they’re waiting at the gate and another for the flight.” A five-inch screen costs $12 a day (the seven-inch runs $15), and can either be dropped off at the destination airport or put in a prepaid mailer. The kiosks stock almost 200 titles including Walt Disney’s complete animated canon.

Sound Mind, Sound Body

Children aren’t the only ones needing diversion. Grown-ups willing to walk past the airport bar can unwind through exercise, the Chicago O’Hare Hilton, linked to the airport by underground moving sidewalks, offers access to its well-equipped 10,000-square-foot gym for just $10. There’s a lap pool, steam room and sauna. And 24 Hour Fitness at Las Vegas’s McCarran Airport caters to the unprepared exercisers, offering a $15-a-day fitness pack that comes with a pair of sneakers (you have to return them) and a fetching T shirt-shorts-socks ensemble.

The more sedentary sort can seek inner peace, or at least outer calm, in meditation rooms at such airports as Washington-Dulles, Sea-Tac and Charlotte. (More of these rooms appear all the time as airport chapels become secularized.) There’s the occasional nondenominational-prayer service, but these comfy Zen lounges are also the perfect place to paint your nails, take a snooze or finish some trashy airport fiction. Any silent activity is considered OK.

Of course we’d all like to go back to the good old days, when boarding a flight was about as complicated as getting on a bus. The process now involves not just a calculation of how long it’ll take to park, check in and get through security, but what to do if everything goes smoothly and you’re stuck with part of an afternoon to waste. Las Vegas International has the solution. “Everyone has to plan for the worst,” says Hilarie Grey, the airport’s spokeswoman, “but then they fly through security and wind up with time on their hands. That’s when I tell them to go play the slots.” Those machines brought in an extra half a million last year. The American spirit endures.



Alberta has many spectacular resorts and parks, such as Banff and Lake Louise, and it also the site of many dinosaur fossils. Descriptions of Calgary and Edmonton are given, along with information about automobile touring, 1994 festivals and events, and outdoor recreation.

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From the Alps to the Ands. there are no sights more majestic than the mountain peaks, highway passes and deep blue lakes of Alberta.

Banff, not far from Calgary, is Canada’s oldest and most beautiful National Park. Its resort hotel looks like a Scottish baronial castle and has included heads of state and giants of the entertainment industry on its guest list.

Nearby Lake Louise is the perfect travel poster and Peyto Lake it like something from an artist’s imagination.

The Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise to Jasper has been described as the most beautiful scenic drive in the world. And Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks is one of the most riveting vistas you’ll ever see.

Tour by car, train or bus. Cross the 10,000 year old Athabasca Glacier by snow coach. Visit a land of pre-history and see one of the world’s most extensive dinosaur displays.

From city life to cattle ranches and adventure holidays, Alberta will delight your eye and excite your imagination.

CITY OF CALGARY 1-800-661-1678 FREE

It’s been called one of the top 20 tourist destinations in the world. And no wonder. Nestled in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, and surrounded by sprawling cattle ranches, Calgary offers every king of holiday activity you can think of.

You can ski the high country and golf in the valleys all on the same day. Explore cowboy country on horseback. Visit the Badlands where dinosaur skeletons are still being discovered. Take in some of the best theatre, jazz and music festivals in the country.

Enjoy the casinos or dine out on the most succulent beef in the world. In 1993, Calgary declared itself a “child-friendly” city and now provides outstanding services and facilities for children of all ages.

And on top of everything else. Calgary stages “The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth.” The Calgary Exhibition & Stampede is a spectacle not to be missed, attracting cowboys from all over the world for 10 days of chuck wagon racing, bronco busting, wild steer riding and dancing in the streets.



Calgary Exhibition and Stampede.

A 10 day Wild West Extravangza.

Canada Olympic Park. The $62 million sports facility created for the Calgary Winter Olypmics.

Calgary Tower. For a panoramic view of the city.

Glenbow Museum. Explore the heritage of the Canadian West.

Heritage Park Historical Village.

Canada’s largest historical living village.

Calgary Zoo. 1,400 animals in an open-air environment. Plus a world-class prehistoric park.

Fort Calgary. A must for history buffs. About pioneers and how Calgary was settled.

Alberta Science Centre and Centinnial Planetarium. Laser show. Mysteries of science.

Spruce Meadows. Stages major international show-jumping events.

Stampede Park and the Saddledome.

Quarter horse racing and harness racing.

Plus NHL hockey in the Saddlebome.

Heritage Pointe. A unique 27-hole signature golf-course. Designed as three courses in one.

Eau Claire Market. An exciting riverside market within the downtown core.

CITY OF EDMONTON 1-800-463-4667 FREE

This capital city is an urban masterpiece of skycrapers, museums, galleries, climate controlled walkways, a subway system, historic sights and 2,000 restaurants set in the natural beauty of over 10,000 acres of parkland.

And the people? They love to party and do it often. From June through August, it’s one festival after another. During Klondike Days in July, the whole city relives the Gold Rush of the 1890s. There are festivals celebrating the city’s ethnic origins, street performers, visual arts, folk music and jazz. The Fringe Theatre Event stages 1,000 performances of 150 different productions in fourteen theatres.

West Edmonton Mall is the world’s largest shopping and entertainment center housing 800 stores and services, 110 foods outlets, 19 movies screens and a hotel. It also has a waterpark the size of five football fields and the world’s largest indoor amusement park with a roller coaster 14 stories high.


Klondike Days. July 21-30. Celebrates the gold rush. Emjoy Edmonton’s nine other festivals.

Great Divide Waterfall. Higher than Niagara.

Fort Edmonton Park. Historic park portraying the lifestyles of 1846, 1885, 1905 and 1920.

Provincial Museum of Alberta. An experience that will take you back millions of years.

Alberta Legislature Building. Completed in 1912. Province’s foremost historical structure.

Edmonton Space & Science Centre. Challenger Learning Centre, IMAX theatre, planetarium, Universe gallery.

Muttart Conservatory. Four pavilions, containing the lushest gardens you’ve ever seen.

Edmonton Northlands. Agricultural, educational, sports and entertainment programs in many facilities, including the Coliseum.

Jubilee Auditorium. Home of the Edmonton Opera, Symphony amd the Alberta Ballet.

Elk Island National Park. Sanctuary for large & small animals plus 250 different bird spieces.

Old Strathcona Historic Area. Shops, galleries, & cafes in buildings back to 1891.

Special Interests. Art Gallery. Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. Chinatown Gate.


In Southeastern Alberta, Canmore played host to many events during the 1988 winter Olympics. It is also the gateway to Kananskis, a year round recreational area on the slopes of the Canadian Rockies.

Waterton Lakes National Park joins Glacier National Park in Montana to create the world’s first international peace park. At Ford Macleod the world-famous NWMP Mounted Patrol Ride is performed four times every day in the summer. Remington-Alberta Carriage Centre in Cardston, gives an appreciation of 19th and early 20th century horse-drawn transportation. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For over 5,000 years this site was used by plains native people. It offers an insight into their lifestyles, beliefs and religion. At Lethbridge visit Forth Whoop-Up, a replica of an old whiskey trading post.

Medicine Hat was once described as a city “with hell for a basement” as it sits on one of the largest natural gas fields in the world. Cypress Hills Provincial Park is a Garden of Eden for flora, fauna and wildlife.

North of Brooks and stretching into Central Alberta explore dinosaur Provincial Park, one of the most extensive dinosaur regions in the world. In the area around Drumheller, see the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology and places where skeletons are still being excavated.

Southeast on Highway 10, visit the Hoodoos, where erosion has created pillars of rock with cap-like formations that look like gigantic mushrooms.

One of the most scenic drives in the region is the David Thompson Highway which takes you from the foothills into the glory of the Rockies and Banff National Park. Located along the highway is the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Park with its interpretive centre outlining the history of the fur trading posts built in 1799.

In Northern Alberta herds of elk, bison, deer and moose thrive in Elk Island National Park. Visit the Ukranian Cultural Heritage Village, 50 km east of Edmonton, where the pioneer life of an early settlement is re-created. At Peace River, the Peace, Smoky and Heart Rivers crash together in a breathtaking display of nature’s power.

Fahler is the honey centre of the world and produces two million kilos of honey every year.

At Fort McMurray, you can see how high tech is used to extract oil from the world-famous Athabasca Tar Sands. The scenic town of Grande Prairie is the gateway to the Alaska Highway. Wood Buffalo National Park is the largest national park in Canada and home of the last known breeding grounds of the rare and graceful whooping crane.

Jasper National Park is a wonderland of picturesque mountain resorts, towering peaks, crystal clear lakes and alpine meadows. Visit the world-renowed Jasper Park Lodge overlooking Lac Beauvert. Ride the tramway to the top of Whistler Mountain. Take a boat cruise amid the picture postcard scenery of Maligne Lake or hike the trials of Maligne Canyon. One of the most awe-inspiring sights in the park is Mount Edith Cavell and Angel Glacier.

Drive the Icefields Parkway, known to be the most scenic drive in the world. Every inch of the way takes you past towering mountain vistas, dramatic passes, beautiful lakes and crashing waterfalls.

South of Jasper, don’t miss the breathtaking Athabasca Falls and the gorge at Sunwapta. One of the many highlights on the Parkway is the Columbia Icefield at the summit of Sunwapta Pass. A snow coach ride here is an experience you’ll never forget.


The Parkway takes you right into Banff National Park. Drivew to the top of Bow Pass, and enjoy the fantastic view of the emerald coloured Peyto Lake. Continue the drive to Lake Louise, the gem of the Rockies. From Chateau Lake Louise, you can look out on thue lake with its backdrop of mountains and glaciers and know what fairytales are made of. At Moraine Lake, in the Valley Of The Ten Peaks, canoe the lake and enjoy the hiking trails. Then relax in romantic comfort at Moraine Lake Lodge.

People from all over the world come to the beautiful resort town of Banff. See the dramatic Bow Falls. Ride to the top of Sulphar Mountain in a gondola. Take the scenic drive to the three Vermilion Lakes. And take the cruise at Lake Minnewanka.

ALBERTA Festivals & Events 1-800-661-8888 FREE

The following is just a sample of the many festivals and events taking place in Albeta in 1994. For more information call the toll free number above.

Jazz City International Festival — Edmonton.

An annual ten day celebration of jazz, blues and world-beat music featuring local, national and international artists.

June 24 – July 3

North American Championship River Boat Races – Whitecourt.

River boat races on the Athabasca River.

June 25

Calgary International Jazz Festival – Calgary.

Celebrate many different traditions and styles of jazz, blues, world and improvised music at various clubs and concert halls.

June 25 – July 3

Ponoka 58th annual Stampede – Ponoka.

This professional rodeo attracts participants from across the continent and is Alberta’s second largest outdoor rodeo and chuckwagon event. Free camping.

June 29 – July 3

Head-Smashed-In-Pow Wow – Fort Macleod.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, hosts this annual Pow Wow.


Fete Franco-Alertaine – Plamondon.

Celebration of the French culture.

July 1-3

Cari-West – Edmonton.

Discover Caribbean culture, music, food and more.

July 1- 3

Maritime Festival – Slave Lake.

Outdoor musical festival for everyone.

July 1- 3

Pysanka Ukrainian Festival – Vegreville.

A celebratiuon of Ukrainian arts, the “Canadian Showcase of Ukrainian Culture”. Food displays, workshops, souvenirs, cabaret and beer garden.

July 1- 3

Canada Day – Province – wide.

Communities across Alberta celebrate Canada’s birthday with fireworks and special programs.

July 1

Summer Art Market/Okotoks Story Display – Okotoks.

Locally made arts and crafts, display of antiques and interpretive displays of local history.

July 1 – September 5

Rowley Daze – Rowley.

A day of fun activities in rural Alberta for all ages.

July 3

Boyle Fiesta Days – Boyle.

Ball tournament, bingo, parade, kid’s carnival and more.

July 8 – 10

Rodeo Days – Hardisty.

Lots to do including beer garden, dance, parade and rodeo.

July 8 -10

Rum Runner Days – Crowsnest.

A community event including parade, barbecue, moonlight race, dance, and Crowsnest Pass Polyathlon.

July 8 – 10

Calgary Exhibition and Stampede – Calgary.

The world’s top professional cowboys compete during Calgary’s half-million dollar rodeo. Chuckwagon races, outdoor stage spectaculars, international stock show, midway and casinos.

July 8 – 17

Summerfest: Edmonton Street Performers Festival – Edmonton.

The world’s best street peformers for over 900 performances. Magicians, clowns, jugglers, musicians and comics.

July 8 – 17

1994 Southern Alberta Summer Games – Picture Butte.

25th anniversary of Games.

July 13 – 16

Waterhole Pro Rodeo – Fairview.

Professional rodeo and midway featuring top calibre athletes.

July 15 – 17

Stirling Settler Days – Stirling.

Parade, ball games, fireworks.

July 16

Calgary Folk Music Festival – Calgary.

Magical musical moments in a variety of settings present local, national ankd international folk music.

Land of the Deer – The charming coastal city of Mazatlan is dedicated to attracting tourists with an appreciation for history, art, and culture

Full Text:

A puff of black exhaust belched out of the bus in front of us. For a moment, I envied the air-conditioned comfort of the passengers inside, but that feeling passed as quickly as the cloud of diesel. When our open-air pulmon’a–the taxicab cousin to a golf cart with a fringe canopy–scooted around the bus, a warm breeze off the Pacific Ocean surrounded me like a hug. It was exhilarating to be bumped along in the busy traffic of Mazatlan, a coastal city in Mexico with roots in European culture.

I had seen few signs of tourism in Mazatlan, and the lack of obvious commercialism was refreshing. An emphasis on cultural appreciation was evident everywhere, even here, amid the traffic. Rather than sunscreened visitors, the lumbering bus contained students from a school of performing arts.

Some coastal cities in Mexico are dependent on attracting sand- and sea-loving tourism, but Mazatlan is entirely committed to its roots. That commitment is demonstrated in the continuing adoration of a beloved opera singer who visited Mazatlan in 1883 and died shortly thereafter. Angela Peralta was the “Mexican Nightingale,” an artist revered throughout the country in the nineteenth century.

Born in Mexico City and trained in Milan, Italy, Peralta made her European debut at seventeen. After touring in Europe for five years, she returned home and was greeted with great fanfare when she came to perform in Mazatlan. Tragically, she fell ill soon after her arrival and died of yellow fever in the Iturbide Hotel. The city mourned her sudden passing intensely and still grieves her loss today.

In 1943, the opera house–originally built in 1874–was renamed Teatro Angela Peralta in her honor. Photographs in its museum and articles on display in the lobby attest to her creative gifts. Peralta’s enduring popularity is indicative of Mazatlan’s appreciation for culture. Within the old city there are numerous museums, galleries, and performing arts venues. Even working-class Mazatlan reveres the many forms of artistic expression.

Mazatlan is a port city named for the thousands of wild deer that roamed the surrounding hills during the eighteenth century. The first settlers arrived as early as 1531. Although a garrison was built to guard the port from marauding pirates, it took years for a “founding” to be recorded. In fact, Mazatlan’s government wasn’t officially established until 1793.

The port was opened to foreign trade by a decree of the Spanish Parliament in 1820. After Mexico gained its independence in 1821, the city’s commercial status solidified. During Mexico’s war with the United States, it was seized for several months until the Americans left in the spring of 1848. After that, it became one of the most productive and significant ports on the Pacific coast. The surge of international trade further strengthened the influence of European lifestyle and culture in Mazatlan.

But peace was illusive. Once again under siege, the city was attacked and occupied by the French in 1864, who remained for two years. Many French and German families subsequently moved to Mazatlan, and the French influence remains today. Neoclassic, Art Nouveau, Moorish, and Art Deco buildings are all evident in the neighborhoods surrounding the oldest part of the city.

Today, Mazatlan is divided into two separate areas, the old city and the new Golden Zone (see sidebar). In the early 1980s, its beautiful beaches were discovered by American college students on spring break. Fearful of becoming a party haven, the city changed its image by ceasing all commercial promotion.

Most of the people who have visited Mazatlan in the past decade have heard about it from a friend or relative. This approach has worked: Mazatlan has become a well-kept secret for a low-key cadre of Americans and Canadians who visit several times a year. Many come to the city because it offers a tremendous value compared to more popular coastal destinations in Mexico. Others are drawn by the charm and cultural history of old Mazatlan.


The old city

The heart of the old city is the Plazuela Machado. The eighteenth- century square is now a gathering place surrounded by coffee shops and galleries. The plaza offers free performances for those who cannot afford to attend concerts, theater, or ballet at the nearby Teatro Angela Peralta. On Carnaval Street near the plaza, the City Arts School is housed in the former Iturbide Hotel; it provides students with lessons in theater, music, painting, and ballet.

Museums are plentiful in the old town. The small Museo de Arqueolog’a features a collection of artifacts of the nomadic tribes that would later settle in central Mexico and found the Aztec empire. Just across the street is the Casa de la Cultura, where the works of both national and international artists are exhibited.

Those seeking insights into Mazatlan’s cultural history should visit the Casa Machado. Formerly the home of a European aristocrat, it has been converted to a museum. Its Victorian rooms provide a peek inside what was once a playground for European socialites. Photographs depict the contrasts of refined, aristocratic living and the bucolic revelry of Carnival in Mazatlan.

The yellow spires of the Cathedral of Mazatlan tower over the Plazuela Republica in the heart of the city. A compilation of many architectural styles, the cathedral’s facade was built in 1875. During my visit, Sunday services were in progress. The doors had been left open on all sides of the cathedral, and anyone was free to join the hundreds already jammed inside the ornate sanctuary. In sharp contrast to the grand spectacle of the church, a single priest, standing in front of a cloth-covered folding table, was preaching in the market nearby. His audience was much smaller: a group of about fifty people, holding plastic bags of fresh shrimp and vegetables, perched on rickety chairs to hear his message of deliverance.

Like the church, the surrounding market hummed with activity. A covered block of colorful vegetable and fruit stands, it also offered arts and crafts, spices, and handmade clothing. Around the perimeter of the market, several women with cheerful, wrinkled faces and bright eyes dished up fresh carne asada burritos and warm tortillas. Children dressed in fluffy pastel dresses and tiny suits gulped down salsa-laden tacos while I implored a shy grandmother with a beautiful face to smile for the camera.

Effortless artistry was on display everywhere, from the tiny dishes of red, green, yellow, and white condiments neatly lined up on the taco stands to the historic costume of a child carried in her mother’s arms. Amid the tolling of cathedral bells and prayers of worshipers, I discerned the uneven harmonies of children. Orphaned charges of the church, they gathered on the streets and sang for donations. In Mazatlan, it seems, the performing arts are encouraged even in charitable endeavors.

The new city

Leaving the market, I asked my driver to head for the beach. Earlier in the day, I’d seen a marker–an enormous, tile assemblage of colorful images and curious symbols. A local guide, 29-year-old Karla Gonzalez, agreed to help with the interpretation. The deer, she said, symbolized the native Nayarit people, who settled here in the land of the deer. The anchor stood for the port of Mazatlan. On either side were two mermaids, one reading poetry and the other holding a mask. The free expression of joy and enthusiasm, such as Mazatlan’s exuberant art festivals and Carnival, she explained, must be balanced with quiet appreciation fostered by reading poetry, studying the arts, and painting.


With that balance–or contrast–in mind, I directed my pulmon’a driver out of the city and along the waterfront. Extending for more than twenty miles along the coast, from the historic old city to the Golden Zone of new Mazatlan, the route was a study in contrasts. Shrimp boats, their faded paint peeling, sat on the sand below a dramatic bronze statue titled the Queen of the Seas. A tall golden image of Our Lady of Puntilla stood nearby, fresh flowers at its feet. A string of raw shrimp hung around the statue’s neck, an expression of gratitude from fishermen. The empty windows of the abandoned Seaman’s House stared out over a stretch of pristine beach. Built in the 1950s as a shelter for sailors of the world, it remains a vision unfulfilled. Next to it was the oceanfront fort that defended Mazatlan from the French, its old cannons still pointed out to sea.

Every piece of public art testified to Mazatlan’s values and history. A dramatic string of graceful bronze and gold statues marked the old city waterfront. Farther along the avenue, a graceful bronze fountain of a leaping dolphin depicted the harmony between nature and man.

From the old city, looking across the bay, and down the coastal boulevard, the new city, with its elegant high-rise hotels, was just visible. Though seemingly remote, the two experiences are only a twenty-minute pulmon’a ride apart. Somehow, the fine art of balancing old and new thrives in Mazatlan.n

Laura Byrd is a contributing editor to The World & I. She would like to thank the Mazatlan Hotel Association and AeroMexico Airlines for assistance with this story. Information on travel to Mazatlan is available at www.gomazatlan.com.