After Olympics, Richmond, B.C. Becomes Tourist Destination

Nearly 3 billion people watched the 2010 Olympic Winter Games on television. Those who tuned into the long track speed skating competition received what was probably their first view of Richmond, British Columbia, the city that hosted the competition in its Richmond Olympic Oval.

But as visitors to the games can attest, there‚Äôs more to Richmond than the Richmond Olympic Oval. The Games gave visitors a chance to discover a unique city with plenty of dining, shopping and multicultural attractions — and more are following in their stead. The city is fast becoming a growing tourist destination with a variety of activities for all ages and abilities.

In Down Economy, Cities Reach Out to Gay Tourists

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<p>(<a href=NewsUSA) – As a stagnant economy has many Americans rethinking travel plans, cities are marketing to new travel demographics — including gay and lesbian tourists.

Unlike other travel brackets, gay travel has remained steady despite the economic recession. Gay and lesbian couples travel more often and spend more money while on vacation than straight couples. According to a 2006 study conduced by the U.S. Travel Association, gay men spend about $800 per trip. Straight men spend $540.

Cities are heeding the trend. In 2003, Philadelphia launched its $300,000 a year “Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay” marketing campaign. Now, the city ranks as America’s 13th largest gay and lesbian travel destination. Southwest Airlines is currently working with the city to attract even more gay and lesbian visitors.

In addition to Philadelphia, Miami, with its historic art deco hotels, beaches and happening nightlife, continues to draw gay and lesbian vacationers. But as the gay tourism market becomes more competitive, the city is working to draw new visitors. In April 2009, the city held a Gay Pride Festival to celebrate gender rights and sexual equality. Twenty thousand visitors showed up to enjoy a parade and the Miami Gay Men’s Chorus and to wave rainbow-colored flags.

“In the past few years, other cities like Key West have cut into Miami’s gay tourism,” says Frederic S. Richardson, CEO of MOD Hospitality (www.eastcoastventures.com), which owns the Astor and Clinton hotels — two of the top-ranked hotels in South Beach. “It’s time that Miami reasserts itself as one of the gay cultural centers of the world.”

Chicago, which hosted the 2006 Gay Games — a quadrennial athletic and cultural event — continues to pursue gay and lesbian tourists. The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau writes a quarterly newsletter directed toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender travelers, and plans to host an International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association board meeting.

“Chicago, frankly, is just now catching up to other cities who have been aggressively wooing the pink dollar,” said Mark Theis, executive vice president of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, in an interview with the the Chicago Tribune. “We want people to know how gay-friendly we are and the wealth of attractive assets we have.”

South Beach: A Tropical Location Close to Home

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<p>(<a href=NewsUSA) – Americans who want to plan a tropical beach vacation without traveling beyond the continental U.S. should set their sights on Miami. The city’s multi-cultural flair, superb beaches and lively nightspots satisfy everyone from art buffs to water sports enthusiasts to partiers.

Miami’s South Beach provides the best mix of beach, culture and entertainment. Historic Art Deco boutique hotels line the boardwalk. For a truly deluxe experience, check out The Hotel Clinton South Beach on Washington Avenue. The ultra-contemporary hotel houses a full spa and 88 sleekly styled rooms with smooth carpeting and elegant, white accents.

After relaxing in the hotel’s pool or optional in-room spa, guests who step outside can find world-class clubs, shopping and restaurants. South Beach, or the “America Riviera,” headquarters the U.S. Latin music industry and offers a sizzling nightlife scene. More than 200 restaurants and upscale shopping — think Armani, Kenneth Cole and Versace — leave no visitor unsatisfied.

The beach itself is a long, white stretch of warm sand and blue water — perfect for sunbathing or a game of beach volleyball. Those with a taste for adventure can rent Jet-skis at the Miami Beach marina or visit the South Beach Dive and Surf Center, located across the street from the Clinton, to plan scuba, surf and snorkeling excursions.

If even a beach this lovely can wear thin, guests should explore South Beach’s cultural destinations. The Wolfsonian Museum houses modern art objects dated from 1885 to 1945, while the Bass Museum exhibits everything from 16th-century Flemish tapestries to contemporary conceptual art.

Of course, no visit to Miami would be complete without a taste of the city’s vibrant nightlife. From popular clubs like Mansion, Prive, Glass, Bed and Opium Garden, to more intimate, but no less chic destinations like the Rose Bar, Social, Sky Bar and the Roof Top at Town House, visitors and celebrities alike can enjoy one of the world’s hottest clubbing destinations.

For more information, visit www.clintonsouthbeach.com.

Nicaragua Offers Neoclassical Luxuries

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<p>(<a href=NewsUSA) – When I announced plans to travel to Nicaragua in search of luxury travel destinations, friends thought I had lost it. Many people assume that the country is still engulfed in political turmoil and a security risk for travelers. On the contrary, Nicaragua is one of the safer places in Central America, offering fabulous natural beauty and world-class boutique hotels at bargain prices.

After arriving in Managua, I headed 50 miles northwest to the colonial city of Leon. In this historic university town, I discovered paradise in the gem-like Hotel La Perla ($100 double). This stately neoclassical mansion has been lovingly restored by its two charming expat owners, James Petersen and Mark McKnight.

Each of the spacious 15 rooms is furnished in antiques. The dining is some of the best in country. One memorable feast included local lobster and sea bass artfully prepared by the world-class kitchen.

After a few leisurely days in Leon, I headed south to Nicaragua’s other colonial city, Grenada. I found building restoration in progress, fueled by foreign capital and aimed at international tourism. Although beautiful, the city lacked the intellect and authenticity of Leon.

I checked into another neo-classical treasure, the Hotel La Gran Francia. Built in the 16th century, it was restored to its original glory in 1995. Located just off Parque Central, the hotel’s restaurant served up scrumptious gourmet meals at bargain prices ($60 dinner for four). My comfortable room was large and brightly furnished in impressive period pieces ($100 double).

This Nicaraguan jaunt ended just shy of Costa Rica in the former fishing village of San Juan del Sur. It was New Year’s Eve, and the town was fully booked. I found lodging in a humble private home, where a $10 room went for $50.

A $6 day pass at the spectacular Pelican Eyes resort saved the day. I spent my final days lounging poolside and plotting my quick return to Nicaragua’s Caribbean Corn Islands.

Neil Wolfson is an acclaimed lifestyle editor and bon vivant. He has written extensively on the subjects of luxury travel, food, wine and fashion.