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Monte-Carlo: the gem of the Riviera

This home to the brightest stars has come a long way since the time when the Rock of Monaco served as a shelter for the area’s early Paleolithic inhabitants. Just thinking of Monte-Carlo conjures up images of glamour and opulence –expensive yachts, the Grand Prix of racing, and of course the most sumptuous of luxury hotels. With the opening of the Grimaldi Forum and a push to increase accessibility for families and other tourists, the 700-year-old principality founded by the Grimaldi family is poised to take the lion’s share of business and leisure tourism.

It may not be very big, but what it lacks in terrain, Monte-Carlo makes up for in sheer wealth of everything else. This district of Monaco, created in 1866 and named in honour of Prince Charles III is barely 3 kilometers long. Yet the short span is covered with more expensive cars, properties and resorts per square meter than anywhere else in Europe –and with only about 3,000 national residents in Monte-Carlo, it’s no wonder that practically the entire district is dedicated to the service industry.Though there has been quite a bit recently done to renew and increase the hotel supply in Monte-Carlo, one cannot complain about its hotel figures over the past year. Occupation rates were higher than the previous year for most months, and the average room rate was up in every month except for February. As usual, the month of May, full of events like the Grand Prix and the Cannes Film Festival, and the summer holiday months registered among the best results in terms of RevPAR. Occupancy over the summer months remained well above 80 points, reaching the year’s high in August with 88.5 points. The year finished rather successfully, with a healthy overall increase of 21% in RevPAR, cumulated over the 12 months. Overall, a healthy 2007 for the Principality seems to be leading to an even more positive 2008. The new strategy worked rather well.Monte-Carlo is a top destination for wealthy vacationers, yacht-owners, cruise ship day-trippers, and French and Italian neighbours. With over 300,000 tourists visiting Monaco each year, the principality has an interest in keeping up with the fast-paced tourism industry. Hence the primary goal of the Société des Bains de Mer, (Sea- Bathing Society), an exclusive state-run operation created in 1863 by Prince Charles III. Realising that at the time, Monaco had lost most of its natural resources and needed a solid economic base, he decided that the only way Monaco could prosper would be as a tourism and gambling destination. This extraordinary enterprise began with a few hotels, a theatre and a casino –the basis for what was to become Monte-Carlo itself. The company, still primarily owned by the Grimaldi family, now owns 2 palaces, 2 four-star hotels, 5 casinos, 33 restaurants and bars, 4 spas, an opera house and cabaret, a number of nightclubs and 60 meeting and banquet rooms.It is therefore no wonder that for a long time, Monte-Carlo was mostly known as a haven for stars and high-rollers. But as other European resorts were being granted gambling deregulation, the miniscule principality needed to find new ways to keep attracting tourists. Monte-Carlo, ideally located on the coast and with over 300 days of sunshine a year, became the obvious choice for the sunbathing grounds and beautifying spas of the stars. But as times and client mixes change, Monte-Carlo must also adapt to a tourist market in constant evolution.Marketing a destination like Monte-Carlo has high points and low points which obviously come with the territory of being tiny. But since both business and leisure segments are only growing, one has to agree that the managing director of Monaco government tourist and convention authority, Michel Bouquier’s motto - “You want a destination, we give you a country” - is convincing.As a leisure destination, Monte- Carlo remains among top luxury tourist spots, but the latest push to make this a business centre proves successful as well. Over the next two years, the “Best business centre in the world outside of Great Britain”, the Grimaldi Forum, will be hosting a number of regular yearly events and company meetings, with the addition, in 2008, of the latest in Reed Midem’s domain, Global Asset (International asset management market), the AFTES congress (French Association of Tunnels and Subterranean Spaces) which will attract 1,200 participants, and two new scientific congresses at the end of 2009 which will attract 5,000 participants.If anyone is aware of the market niches that need to be filled, it is the Société des Bains de Mer. Top-class luxury hotels like the Hôtel de Paris and l’Hermitage are regulars for the jet-set, but what about the evergrowing business clientele and the all-important family-friendly hotel? The latest addition to their already impressive patrimony is the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, a 4* wonder on the Larvotto peninsula overlooking Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and the Monte-Carlo Beach complex. Open since 2005, the Bay Resort was specifically positioned in the four-star category and with a lower average room rate in order to make SBM more accessible to families and the business market. The offer caters well to these markets, with a modern and wellequipped business centre, entertainment for children and luxurious spa services. The Monte-Carlo Bay is the perfect example of the hotel offering a wide range of possibilities to clients.Since Monte Carlo hotels cater to the types of clients who are looking for the ideal “package”, most every hotel has a spa with specialty treatments, and quite often the treatments are among the first criteria for choosing a hotel. Yet while every hotel may have a spa, not all wellbeing programmes are created equal. Of course, one might treat oneself to the legendary Thermes Marins de Monte- Carlo, but perhaps one might prefer the treatment especially for the jet-lagged businessperson at the Columbus, or the world-renown Ayurvedic massages at the Métropole ESPA. In any successful spa programme, but especially in the Ayurvedic tradition which concentrates on the characteristics and experiences of the individual, the key is personalisation. “Our therapists are trained to subtly orient our clients towards certain types of treatments,” states Brigitte Chevillotte, Director of the Métropole ESPA. “The idea is to understand each individual client in order to best guide him or her in the treatments which will give the most in terms of well-being. That way, the programme becomes a fully personalised experience and the client is sure to be satisfied.” Preparation to be a spa therapist at the ESPA therefore includes not only spa techniques and protocol, but also philosophical and therapeutic training.Obviously the tradition of a luxurious lifestyle is not the only tradition in Monte-Carlo. Suffice it to say, THE event of the year in Monaco, the reason why some people who have never even been there have memorised every curve of the streets of Monte-Carlo, is the Grand Prix. The passion for automobiles has a long history in Monte-Carlo. In 1911, the tradition of the Monte-Carlo rally was launched and spawned the Automobile Club de Monaco in 1925, which held the first Grand Prix de Monaco in 1929. Now nearly 80 years later, the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monaco is one of the most highly anticipated Formula 1 races of all –78 laps over 3,340 kilometers of Monegasque pavement, and a plethora of luxurious hotel-top terraces from which one can sip cocktails and watch Alonso and Raïkkönen battle it out on the circuit.One cannot talk about Formula One without talking about one of Monte-Carlo’s most famous residents, David Coulthard. The multi-race winning dri ver-turned-businessman has seen success behind the wheel, but also as a successful hotelier. The Columbus Monaco boasts all the glamour that the old stand-by luxury hotels claim, but at a fraction of the cost and in one of the most discreet locations –on the “other side” of the Rock. The interesting business partnership he has forged with fellow-Scotsman and hotel entrepreneur Ken McCulloch has been quite fruitful for the team. Columbus has succeeded in fulfilling a market niche of travellers who want contemporary luxury without shelling out an exorbitant sum for a decent place to stay, and with the ability to have some privacy. Since its opening in 2001, Columbus’ unique style reflected in their motto “Live life, love life” attract more and more fans of luxury and discretion.But Frederik Aspegren, the hotel’s General Manager and Columbus Regional Manager for the past 3 years, would never settle to live by reputation alone –even though he could. Aspegren is constantly finding ways to innovate and to please the hotel’s growing number of fans. As seems to be every Monegasque hotelier’s duty, which they take seriously each and every one, the main concern is to concentrate on marketing for a destination like Monaco and Monte-Carlo. Promotions therefore focus on discovery rather than simply lowering room rates. The latest promotion is one which Aspegren is particularly proud of. “Our new ‘Columbus aprèsski’ programme lets our fans of skiing stay with us all while spending their day on the slopes at Courchevel. They leave from the helipad, spend their day skiing with an instructor if they wish, and come back to Monaco’s nightlife. A lot of our guests prefer our comfort and class and the many interesting evening activities in Monaco to the ambiance in most ski stations at night, so this is the perfect way to experience the best of both worlds.” The 181 deluxe rooms will be undergoing renovations throughout 2008, focusing on installing the latest technology in all of the rooms as well as a general freshening up of the equipment and décor. As for Aspegren’s opinion of Coulthard? “David is a very nice chap, but like our philosophy and the majority of our guests, he likes discretion.” There you have it, from Monte- Carlo’s bestkept secret of the stars.One of the most exciting developments in Monte-Carlo may be the 43 million euros renovations currently being undertaken at the Fairmont. Inaugurated in 1975 by Princess Grace herself, the hotel was owned by Loews until the end of the 1990’s, when it became the Monte-Carlo Grand Hotel. Fairmont acquired the property together with KHI and Cedar Capital, and set about making it a European ambassador for the brand. So far, it seems to be working. The first phase of renovation, the creation of an open-spaced, airy lobby and refurbishment of all public spaces, has had an immensely positive reaction from both local and international clientele according to Xavier Rugeroni, the hotel’s General Manager and Regional Vice President for Fairmont. “Over the next two years, we will be finishing up renovations of all of the bedrooms, and by the end of 2009, the entire 7th floor will be refurbished, including the gym, the pool, and a new 900 m2 Willow Stream spa –a trademark of Fairmont which focuses on the flows of energy.” It seems about time that this landmark of Monte-Carlo had a makeover, as it occupies one of the most prime locations for Grand Prix race –the legendary hairpin turn. While it has been traditionally known as the Loew’s Hairpin, Rugeroni has no qualms about appropriating the famous curve. “It’s already done. Just look at the “F” in “Fairmont” and you see that it was just made for us,” he asserts. It is sure that once the rooftop terrace is filled with Formula One fans, it will be difficult to deny that fact.Another “new kid on the block” is the Novotel Monte- Carlo, a three-star which fully embodies Novotel’s recent image makeover. Opened just within the last few months, this new addition is centrally located and within walking distance from the train station, the Casino, the Grimaldi Forum, shopping, the beach…everything the business or leisure traveller could hope for, and for much less than its extravagant neighbours. Its opening had an obvious positive impact, since at the end of 2007, the average occupancy rate was up by 8% over the whole hotel park.Though there has been quite a bit recently done to renew and increase the hotel supply in Monte-Carlo, one cannot complain about its hotel figures over the past year. Occupation rates were higher than the previous year for most months, and the average room rate was up in every month except for February. As usual, the month of May, full of events like the Grand Prix and the Cannes Film Festival, and the summer holiday months registered among the best results in terms of RevPAR. Occupancy over the summer months remained well above 80 points, reaching the year’s high in August with 88.5 points. The year finished rather successfully, with a healthy overall increase of 21% in RevPAR, cumulated over the 12 months. Overall, a healthy 2007 for the Principality seems to be leading to an even more positive 2008. The new strategy worked rather well.

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