Mon, May 27, 2002 - Page 17 News List

World Cup widows seek a last resort

TRAVEL INDUSTRY Although the soccer event is being held in Asia for the first time and promotional events abound, there are some places where the matches aren't even being covered, and that's an attraction in and of itself

REUTERS , SINGAPORE

An Indonesian gardener tends to her flowers at the Nusantara Flower Park in West Java, yesterday. The park, covering 35 hectares, has a large collection of flowering plants from all over the world and may serve as a viable tourist destination for those who wish to avoid World Cup maddness.

PHOTO: REUTERS

With World Cup fever catching across the region, Southeast Asia's fun spots are cranking up their gimmick machines to score profits.

Resorts, retailers and even massage parlors have come up with enterprising ways to woo customers in the football-mad region in the run-up to the month-long extravaganza in South Korea and Japan beginning May 31.

Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts is offering "World Cup widow" packages to keep bored women busy while their spouses and boyfriends are glued to their television sets or actually attending the events in Japan and South Korea.

"During World Cup season, men basically dream, walk, talk and live football," Reene Ho, the group's marketing communications director, said.

"Since the wives and girlfriends will be neglected during this season, why not make the men pay for a trip for them to go with their girlfriends to a resort?"

Ho said the packages, for trips to its sister spa Angsana, are extremely popular with female executives aged 25-35, with June occupancy rates hitting 65 percent to 70 percent so far.

She said the bulk of female travellers going to the Angsana resort near the Great Barrier Reef are from Australia, the US and Europe, while Hong Kong and Singapore women prefer the Bintan resort in Indonesia.

Soccer fever in Thailand and Singapore, which have legions of dedicated fans, is building.

Beckham fans

Giant photographs of England captain David Beckham and striker Michael Owen adorn hoardings across Bangkok to advertise soft drinks.

England is by far the most popular team playing in the World Cup, according to a recent Thai opinion poll, with Beckham chosen by most young Thai women as their favorite soccer pin-up.

One local fashion designer aims to ride the soccer craze among women with a special World Cup wedding dress.

The French silk gown features a head-dress in the shape of a ball above a traditional veil in the shape of a net and a black-and-white motif embroidered across the bodice.

"If you talk about women being football fans, the numbers have increased dramatically. They love teams like England," said Ladda Mongkolchaivivat, organizer of a major fashion show to be held in Bangkok ahead of the World Cup.

The dress hits the catwalk in early June, when brides-to-be will be able to buy it for 50,000 baht (US$1,168).

A Thai massage parlour hopes to lure loyal fans away from TV screens during the World Cup by offering rubdowns by women wearing the strip of their favorite team.

Fan discounts

Patrons will also get discounts for donning football kits and arriving in teams of five or more.

"Sport is part of human activity and we would like to link the World Cup to our massage business," said Patiphat Ratanakitpisan, a major shareholder of the Zodiac in Bangkok.

In Singapore, most hotels and bars plan to set up giant screens and offer cheap beer to lure crowds. BAR, a posh drinking hole with sleek sofas and piped-in music, is turning its space into a soccer playground.

"We're going to thrash the whole place and turn it into World Cup Central," said Hana Al Hadad, marketing communications manager for the Emerald Hill Group which manages the bar.

"Our walls are going to be plastered with national flags and we're bringing in a mini goal to play beat-the-goalie during half time. To get into the mood, the staff will also be decked out in football jerseys," she said.

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