Dubai hotel chain goes international

Jumeirah International, the Dubai-based luxury hospitality group behind theJumeirah Beach and the Burj Al Arab hotels, has announced plans for rapid worldwide expansion focusing on destinations served by Emirates Airlines.

Bill Walshe, Jumeirah’schief sales and marketing officer,said thatover the next five years the group was looking to open 40 new hotels in a mixture of resort and city locations.

“We will start by targeting capital locations, most likely ones served by Emirates Airlines, as well as cities necessary to become a credible world force, such asNew York,Paris,Sydney, andTokyo.”

Speaking to Business Traveller, Walshe accepted that it would be a challenge to maintain service levels in the new hotels, which will be run under management contracts, but he insisted that the group would not “shy away from moving outside our traditional operating base ofDubai”.

The group is re-branding all but one of its existing eightLondon andDubai properties with the Jumeirah name, so that the Emirates Towers Hotel inDubai for example will becomeJumeirah Emirates Towers and the Lowndes Hotel inLondon is now the Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel.

The group’s landmark Burj Al Arab inDubai, however, will not take on the Jumeirah branding.

“The Burj al Arab will always be displayed in conjunction with the brand, and will be endorsed by the hotel group, but as the most famous hotel in the world, it is something more than just a hotel,” explained Walshe.

“It is likeDubai’s Sydney Opera House and the identification it has forDubai as a destination is bigger than any brand.”

Live TV first for Gulf airline

Etihad Airways will be the first airline in the world to offer live television and internet access through its seatback entertainment systems next year after signing a deal with Boeing.

Singapore Airlines is set to launch a similar live TV and internet service for its passengers later this summer, but it will only be accessible to passengers travelling with Wi-Fi enabled laptops.

Both airlines are using in-flight broadband technology developed by Boeing called Connexion by Boeing.

The Abu Dhabi-based airline will start rolling out the live TV and internet seatback service from mid-2006 on routes between the Gulf region,Europe andNorth America.

It will give passengers at every seat access to the worldwide web, e-mail, corporate intranets, virtual private networks, live TV and the ability to stay in touch with friends, family and the office.

Until the full new service comes into operation, Etihad will offer the Connexion by Boeing high-speed internet, data and entertainment connectivity through passengers’ Wi-Fi-enabled laptops.

This service is also being installed by several other airlines including JAL, Lufthansa and All Nippon Airways.

Peter Dunkin, Etihad’sUK general manager, said: “With the introduction of this high-speed mobile internet and entertainment connection on board our new aircraft, we are confident that we will raise hospitality standards to a revolutionary new level of service.”

New routes for Scotland and regions

SN Brussels Airlines has launched flights from Glasgow to Brussels.

The flight is timely for business travellers with weekday (and Saturday) departures at6.20am fromGlasgow, arriving inBrussels at9am. A second daily flight leaves on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at2.15pm, arriving inBrussels 5pm.

Return flights leaveBrussels at7.25pm, arriving inGlasgow at8.15pm every day except Saturdays and an additional return service operates Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at1pm, arriving at1.35pm.

The flight is operated by an Avro RJ aircraft in a two-class configuration. Business Class passengers enjoy dedicated check-in, lounge access, improved catering and larger seats.

SN Brussels chief executive, Peter Davies hopes Glagow-based business travellers will use the service to connect with the carrier’s European and intercontinental network.

The airline is currently offering a special rate of E69 return including taxes on its website for flights booked up to June 30 for travel between July 21 and August 21, subject to availability. Go to www.flysn.com.

In addition Easyjet has released its winter timetable fromUK regional airports. The flights launch at the end of October:

– Belfast toAmsterdam,Alicante,Berlin, Faro,Geneva,Inverness,Malaga, Nice,Palma,Paris, Rome.

– Bristol to Alicante,  Amsterdam, Barcelona, Belfast,  Berlin, Budapest, Edinburgh, Faro, Geneva, Glasgow, Inverness, Madrid, Malaga, Murcia, Nice, Palma, Prague, Pisa, Rome, Venice, Valenicia.

– Liverpool to Alicante, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Basel, Belfast,  Berlin, Cologne, Geneva, Madrid, Malaga, Nice, Palma, Paris.

– Newcastle toAlicante,Barcelona,Belfast,Berlin,Bristol,Budapest,Geneva,Malaga, Nice,Palma,Paris Prague, Rome.

– Nottingham East Midlands toAlicante,Cologne, Faro,Geneva,Malaga,Prague,Rome, Venice.

Report by Ginny McGrath

Heathrow rail connection gets boost

A train service connecting Paddington with Heathrow is undercutting the Heathrow Express by £5.50.

The Heathrow Connect service, launched on June 12, costs £9.50 for a single ticket compared to the £14 charged by Heathrow Express for the same trip. The saving on a return ticket is £7 because Heathrow Express prices its return at £26, while Heathrow Connect charges £19. 

In addition, national railcards including Senior Railcards, Young Persons Railcards and tickets like Business Savers are valid on Heathrow Connect.

However, Heathrow Connect has not been launched to rival the airport express train. It makes five stops at westLondon stations before reaching the airport so takes 25 minutes to travel from Paddington to Heathrow compared to the 15 minutes taken by Heathrow Express.
As well as offering a cheaper service from Paddington, albeit less speedy, Heathrow Connect stops at Ealing Broadway, West Ealing, Hanwell, Southall, and Hayes (see map), meaning that residents of west London and the western suburbs no longer need to back track to Paddington in order to travel to Heathrow by train.

Heathrow Connect could also be the only train service stopping at Heathrow’s Terminal 4 once Terminal 5 opens in March 2008. This is according to preliminary plans laid out by airports operator, BAA, concerning the operation of the new terminal, although this is still subject to discussion.

Heathrow Connect operates its first trains from Paddington at4.42am and the last train at 23.08, with trains every 30 minutes for most of the day. The first Heathrow Express train pulls out of Paddington at5.10am and the last one at 23.25, with trains operating every 15 minutes for most of the day.

Go to www.heathrowconnect.com and www.heathrowexpress.com.

Report by Ginny McGrath

‘New Concorde’ on the cards

The days of commercial supersonic travel may not be over.

Less than two years after Concorde was withdrawn from service, Japanese and French aircraft engineers are looking to develop a new supersonic jet.

The first route mooted for supersonic flight is New York-Tokyo. The aircraft will seat up to 300 people, according to Japanese authorities, and would almost cut the flight time between New York and Tokyo in half to six hours. It will not be ready until around 2015.

According to reports from theParis air show, the two countries have secured over £1 million in funding to develop the aircraft, which would be cleaner and more efficient than Concorde according to the Japanese authorities.

Report by Ginny McGrath

W’s little sister

The company that launched W hotels has unveiled plans to launch a cheaper alternative to the fashionable brand.

Dubbed “Project XYZ”, the new hotels from Starwood Hotels and Resorts are scheduled to start opening in 2007 in US cities, withTampa,Minneapolis andPalo Alto cited as possible locations.

Starwood has confirmed the emphasis will be on design, with 90-180 loft-style bedrooms, trendy public spaces including a lounge, outside space and a 24-hour kitchen area serving food and drinks. The hotels will offer a pared-down service that is suitable for longer stays or guests on a budget.

Bedrooms will have oversized windows, large working spaces, large bathrooms with Bliss Spa products, and the entire property will be wireless internet enabled.

The properties will also feature a gym and swimming pool, plus meeting facilities and “business booths” where guests can use a computer, print documents and check emails.

Starwood says XYZ is a working title and may not be the final brand name for the properties.

A spokeswoman told Businesstraveller.com that the two brands were targetted at different types of customer, XYZ being less pricey than W hotels.

With the two brands not in competition, it’s possible they could open in the same cities, although a spokeswoman could not confirm whether this would happen. However, a statement issued by Starwood said it had received interest in the XYZ concept from developers in cities includingLos Angeles,Chicago,New York andSan Diego, which are all locations for existing W properties.

Report by Ginny McGrath

Lounges for Easyjet

Easyjet is adding airport lounges in a bid to woo business travellers.

The low cost carrier is making a break from the traditional no-frills model by offering the lounges to its passengers at an extra charge.

At a cost from £12 per passenger, the lounges offer complimentary drinks including wines, beer and spirits, snacks, newspapers and magazines. Business facilities include phone, fax, computers with internet access and printers, and some lounges have showers.

Easyjet passengers can book the lounges online at www.easyjetlounges.com and use the lounge for up to three hours before their plane departs.

The lounges are operated by Servisair/Globeground and will be available in 33 Easyjet airports inEurope, althoughBelfast,Basel and Paris Orly airports do not have lounges.

Customers wearing shorts, football shirts or baseball caps will be turned away according to the rules stated on the website and some lounges don’t allow children under the age of 12.

This is not the first business traveller-friendly initiative undertaken by Easyjet. Earlier this year the airline trialled a scheme to offer passengers the chance to board the aircraft first for a fee of £10, allowing them to take the seat of their choice. A second trial at a UK airport is being considered.

Easyjet last year trialled self-service check-in machines atNottingham East Midlands Airport, and consequently rolled them out atNottingham East Midlands,Geneva andBerlin airports, with other airports under consideration.

Report by Ginny McGrath

Star and One World to expand

The leading global airline alliances, Star and One World, are adding airline members.

StarAlliance has this week announced that it is adding Swiss International Air Lines, while rival One World is making steps to integrate Malev Hungarian Airlines. The announcement from Star Alliance was anticipated, following the acquisition by one of the alliance’s leading carriers, Lufthansa, of Swiss in March this year.

The deal means Star Alliance members will eventually be able to enjoy reciprocal frequent flyer programme and lounge benefits with Swiss. They will also be able to interline between Swiss and other alliance carriers, i.e. book a multi leg trip under one ticket and check-in luggage to their end destination in the event of an indirect flight.

The decision byBudapest carrier, Malev, to join One World will boost the alliance’s global reach by four countries (Albania,Bosnia-Herzegovina,Macedonia, andSlovenia) and add 11 new airports. But first Malev must present a business plan and ensure it offers service in line with One World specifications.

Malev chief executive Janos Gönci said membership of the alliance was crucial for the carrier. “In the current state of the airline industry there is no chance of sustainable earnings for a mid-sized network carrier without partners,” he said.

Report by Ginny McGrath

More private jets for Lufthansa

Lufthansa is extending its private jet service toFrankfurt following positive uptake of the product atMunich.

The private jets were launched fromMunich on a trial basis in March, offering short-haul connections acrossEurope. The jets can be booked for flights to over 1,000 European destinations at a time that suits the passenger, rather than being confined by Lufthansa’s schedule.

Another benefit is that customs, baggage, immigration and security are expedited. Lufthansa hopes this will encourage premium passengers arriving at or leavingFrankfurt on long-haul flights to book the jets for a short-haul connection that suits their schedule.

But passengers using the private jet service fromFrankfurt will need to add up to 30 minutes to the trip because the jets are being operated out of nearbyEgelsbach Airport, a quieter airfield. Complimentary chauffeur to Egelsbach is included in the cost of hiring the jets.

Passengers are also offered a complimentary chauffeur to Lufthansa’s new First Class Terminal atFrankfurt, which includes a lounge and business area, a la carte restaurant and luxurious bathrooms.

The aircraft used by Lufthansa have a seating capacity of seven passengers. The price you pay is for the entire aircraft, plus up to 300 euro per additional passenger. A fare structure forFrankfurt private jets is still being devised but example fares fromMunich are from 4550 euros for Munich- Lugano or 9,530 euros for Dublin-Billund.

Private jet flights can be booked up to 24 hours ahead. Go to www.lufthansa.com or call the dedicated call centre,+49 18 02 99 33 00.

Report by Ginny McGrath

Shanghai flights up

British Airways launched flights to Shanghai this week.

The service operates five times a week between London Heathrow and the Chinese city. It competes directly with Virgin Atlantic, which operates five weekly frequencies toShanghai.

The Shanghai service is the first new longhaul route launched by British Airways for over two years.

The move by BA follows an agreement made between theUK and Chinese authorities to allow more flights between the two countries. Flights were previously limited to six per week to Beijing, which are operated by BA, and four to Shanghai, operated by Virgin.

The agreement will enable 25 passenger flights betweenChina and theUK each week, allowing BA to launch toShanghai and Virgin to boost frequency to the city to five a week, which will increase to six a week from mid June and seven a week from October.

British Airways and Virgin’s return fares both start at £505 toShanghai. Go to www.ba.com, www.virgin-atlantic.com.

The other carrier operating direct flights between London andShanghai is China Eastern Airlines.

Virgin has also this week announced plans to fly toDubai andJamaica. The carrier will launch services between London Heathrow and Dubai from April 2006 and services from Gatwick toMontego Bay, Jamaica from July 2006. It also plans to increase Mumbai flights from three a week to daily from December 2005.

Report by Ginny McGrath