UK’s first “capsule hotel” opens at Gatwick airport

This week sees the opening of the first Yotel, offering low-cost cabin-style accommodation at Gatwick’s South Terminal.

Founded by Simon Woodroffe, owner of the Yo! Sushi chain of restaurants, the Yotel is located landside at the South Terminal, next to the Continental and US Airways’ arrival lounges. The hotel has 46 “cabins” with a choice of 36 Standard or eight Premium rooms (plus two accessible rooms for less able guests).
 
Business Traveller will be carrying out a full “Tried and Tested” review of the hotel in a forthcoming issue, but had a sneak preview prior to the opening.
 
Guests obtain their key card via self-service kiosks at the entrance to the Yotel (there is also a galley area manned 24-hours per day in case there are any queries) and proceed to either a 7sqm Standard cabin, or a relatively spacious 10sqm Premium cabin.
 
Standard cabins are either “upper” or “lower” and the bed in the upper cabin is directly above that of the lower cabin next door, although Yotel says that each cabin is individually soundproofed.
 
Standard cabins have a large single bed, (2x1m), apparently big enough for two people, a flat screen TV at the end of the bed with 63 channels and paid for movies, plus a Juke Box with an impressive 5,000 songs.

There is also a small pull-down desk and foldable chair and overhead storage space. The toilet and shower take up around a third of the room space, equivalent (in percentage terms), to the amount of time guests spend in the average hotel bathroom during their stay, according to research by Yotel.

Premium cabins feature a double bed, which converts electronically into a sofa (the inspiration for which came from Woodroffe’s experience of BAs First cabin). There is plenty of storage space, both underneath and next to the bed, and Premium cabins also have an i-pod docking system connected to the TV speakers, plus a larger work desk.

While none of the rooms have natural daylight, they have windows looking onto the corridors and feature mood lighting, individually controlled air conditioning, complimentary wifi access, UK and EU electrical sockets and a hair dryer. Snacks and drinks can be ordered through the TV menu and delivery time specified in 15-minute intervals.

The overall feel of the cabins is ultra-modern, with a white a purple colour scheme, and it came as no surprise to hear that the capsules were designed by Priestman Goode, of the Virgin Upper Class Suite.

Prices at the Yotel Gatwick start from £25 for a minimum four-hour stay in a Standard cabin, up to £55 for 24 hours and from £40 for four hours in the Premium cabins up to £80 overnight.

Says Nigel Buchanan, operations director for Yotel, and formally of Hotel du Vin: “So far the most popular length of stay is between eight to 10 hours followed by four-hour stays. 50 per cent of bookings have been from North America, many of these transit passengers, and 25 per cent of bookings have been by single female travellers.”

Woodroffe said that the original plan for Yotel had been to launch a city centre property, but talks with BAA have resulted in the Yotel Gatwick, plus the 32-room Heathrow hotel (located on the mezzanine level at T4) to open later in the summer, and a Stansted property also planned. Woodroffe added that a city centre property would follow and that this would probably include rooms that could be converted into meeting areas as well as having Economy cabins without en-suite facilities.

So will the Yotel work? Japan has long had the “pod” hotel concept aimed at the business market, although Yotel is keen to play down the similarities between its offering and the even smaller Japanese capsule – as Woodroffe joked: “You can swing a cat in our Premium cabins, but you’ll have to put the bed away first.”

The company hopes to achieve occupancy rates of up to 250 per cent, with cabins being rented several times a day, and it will no doubt provide stiff competition for the only other on-airport hotels at Gatwick, the Hilton at the South Terminal, and the Sofitel at the North Terminal (although the revamped arrivals lounge within this hotel, [see online news June 14] may mean the Yotel proves surplus to requirements for premium transiting passengers for BA, Emirates and Delta).

It will also be interesting to see how the forthcoming Heathrow property fares, given its location at T4 and the number of hotels along the Bath Road, both budget and high-end [see Business Traveller’s Heathrow hotel guide April 2006 at businesstraveller.com].

Visit Yotel.com for more information.

Report by Mark Caswell.

Avis gets greener with Toyota Prius

Avis has introduced the hybrid Toyota Prius to its UK fleet in another move towards offering environmentally friendly rental cars.

Twenty hybrid (petrol/electric) Toyota Prius models will be available from Avis rental offices in London, as the company trials the car in the UK.

A spokesperson for Avis said: “London is the first port of call for the trial [in the UK] because the car will be exempt from the congestion charge, but we may well extend to other large cities, such as Manchester later in the year.”

Hertz introduced the Prius in the Hertz Green Collection last October (see online news). But Avis’s “green” move to the UK comes after the success of Avis Portugal, which introduced hybrid cars to its fleet in 2005 and currently has 50 hybrids across the country. Avis Scandinavia also offers over 400 ethanol-powered Saabs, 75 Ford Flexi-fuel cars and 20 Toyota Prius’ across its fleet.

In February, Avis Germany introduced natural gas VW Tourans to its fleet in 15 cities across the country.

Daniel McCarthy, commercial director, Avis UK said: “Our environmental commitment has been palpable since we launched our relationship with The Carbon Neutral Company in 1998 and within the past five years Avis Europe has offset 76,500 tonnes of CO2 through a combination of forestry and climate friendly projects.”

Avis customers in the UK can book the Toyota Prius online at the Avis Prestige website (avisprestige.com).

Other green cars coming…

Budget Rent-a-Car: Andy Lewis, head of marketing & e-commerce at Budget Rent-a-Car has hinted that Budget has similar plans: “Budget clearly has a responsibility to consider the environmental impact of its operations worldwide and is keen to introduce the new ‘hybrid’ petrol-electric powered vehicles across the fleet. Budget is trialling a limited number of petrol/electric hybrid type vehicles at selected locations during 2007.”

Report by Felicity Cousins

New mobile phone train ticketing scheme

UK railway passengers who book tickets through The Trainline will soon be able to opt for a paperless version.

The Trainline’s pilot program, launched in conjunction with UK train operator Midland Mainline, currently allows just 15 select business travellers to order rail tickets online and then have them securely sent to their mobile phones. 

The selected routes for the pilot program are between London St. Pancras and Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield.

Jeremy Acklam, business development director for The Trainline, said he expects the mobile phone ticketing service to be available to all passengers by late summer 2007. “It will be rolled out on a train company by train company basis,” he said.
 
Paperless ticketing through smart cards or mobile phone ticketing is particularly useful for business travellers, Acklam said. “Traditionally, tickets have always been on paper and had to be printed or collected, and that’s always a problem for business customers in particular who are in a hurry.”
 
The Trainline is the first rail ticket retailer in the UK to offer mobile phone ticketing with secure messaging and regular priced tickets, Acklam said. “There is another pilot program for mobile phone ticketing ongoing with Chiltern railways, though it is just SMS-style messaging. We are the first one to offer secure messaging and the first to pilot a program for business passengers.”
 
The Trainline plans to continue electronic retailing by combining the two technologies to use mobile phones fitted with smartcard software, possibly as soon as 2010.
 
The South West Trains franchise is the first train operator in the UK that is required by the Department for Transport to accept smartcard technology by 2009.
 
“It is fairly clear that you can define that date as the start of the smartcard implementation for the railways,” Acklam said. “The other franchises will follow soon after.”

In addition to developing the mobile phone ticketing technology, the British ticket retailer took another step toward paperless ticketing on Tuesday (June 26) when it acquired Advanced Smartcard Technologies. AST accepted the £18.7m takeover by the British ticket retailer on Tuesday, and the acquisition will allow The Trainline to develop its own smartcardtechnology like the pilot program with mobile phones. 

For more information see thetrainline.com.
 
Report by Lucinda Housley

Hotel du Vin offers respite for smokers on July 1

With the smoking ban only a few days away, five Hotel du Vin properties will offer shelter for smokers put out in the cold.

From July 1, the Winchester, Tunbridge Wells, Cheltenham, Henley on Thames and Glasgow hotels will offer “Cigar Shacks” in their gardens.

The shacks have been designed by The Bothy Lodge Company, which provides luxury wooden retreats to hoteliers. The Cigar Shacks are heated and have under floor heating too. The shacks also have wireless internet access and are decked out with comfortable seating and tables.

In other news

The Hotel Du Vin Glasgow, which opened in September last year has been re-fitted with a further 14 new rooms. The 49-room hotel is in the West End of the city and has a bistro bar, and whiskey room as well as the “Cigar Shack” as mentioned above.

At the other end of the UK, Hotel du Vin has just bought the Mansion House Hotel in Poole, Dorset. The hotel will be refurbished over the next few months and will re-launch as Hotel du Vin Poole in April next year.

For more information see hotelduvin.com and bothylodge.com.

Report by Felicity Cousins

Rezidor opens first property in Spain

Rapidly-growing hotel group Rezidor has opened its first Spanish property, the Radisson SAS El Marques Resort and Spa, in Mijas.

The resort is located between Marbella and Malaga and will appeal to leisure travellers with its extensive facilities. There are 105 generously sized suites (some up to 156sqm), with two or three bedrooms, kitchenettes and private balconies. The resort has one indoor and two outdoor pools, a 600sqm spa with a Finnish sauna and Turkish bath and several F&B options.

For business travellers there is a business centre, two meeting rooms and free high-speed internet access.

Rezidor, which operates the brands Radisson SAS Hotel and Resorts, Regent International Hotels, Park Inn, Country Inns and Suites and the life-style hotel Missoni, will be adding a further 20,000 rooms between now and 2009.

Park Inn opened its second Cardiff hotel (and only the second Park Inn in Wales) in May this year and in Glasgow, Rezidor has taken over the established The Langs Hotel to be re-branded as a Park Inn (the first in Scotland). The re-branding will be completed by October. The hotel has 100 rooms, a restaurant and bar and spa and fitness centre and a large meeting room.

A Park Inn Manchester will be coming in Autumn 2009, although it will not be a city centre hotel, located close to the Common Wealth Games Velodrome and one of Manchester’s main motorway arteries to the north and east of the country.

In other news, the Radisson SAS Hotel, Edinburgh announced on Tuesday that all meetings taking place on or after July 1st will be certified 100 per cent carbon neutral through partnership with the Carbon Neutral Company. In January this year the Radisson became the first hotel in Scotland to hire a full time member of staff to deal with environmental issues and as a result electricity use is down 10 per cent on last year and waste by 50 per cent.

For more information see radissonsas.com and rezidor.com.

Report by Felicity Cousins

Premier Travel Inn announces re-brand, and targets India expansion

Budget hotel chain Premier Travel Inn is to drop the “Travel” from its name at a cost of £22m, and has announced plans for 80 properties in India over the next ten years.

The Whitbread-owned chain of hotels started life as Travel Inn in the late 1980s, before adding Premier to its moniker following the acquisition of Premier Lodges in 2004. But the group has now decided to drop “Travel” from its name, perhaps to avoid confusion with budget rival Travelodge. The company says that the change will “make it easier for consumers to remember, recognise more quickly the premier offering in the budget hotel sector and create blue water between the brand and its competitors”.

Premier Travel Inn is currently the UK’s largest hotel brand, with just under 500 hotels and over 32,000 rooms. But this figure is set to soar with the brand’s plans to create a further 12,000 rooms in India under a join-venture agreement with Indian developers Emaar-MGF. Initial sites under consideration include Delhi, Chennai, Goa, Hyderabad and Chandigarh. Says Alan Parker, chief executive Whitbread PLC:

“Our entry into India will fill a gap in the country’s hotel market by providing high quality branded budget hotels. The pace of economic development in India is quite phenomenal; and importantly for us there is rapid growth in both business and leisure markets.”

India will represent Premier Travel Inn’s second international market, with a property due to open in Dubai early next year, and further expansion planned for the Gulf region.

Visit premiertravelinn.com for more information.

Report by Mark Caswell

New flights to Israel from November 1

Travellers to Israel from the UK have more options from November 1. Starting three times weekly, Thomsonfly.com will fly from both London Luton and Manchester to Tel Aviv. Flights will operate Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays out of both airports, with mid-morning departures (1110 from Manchester, 1010 from London Luton) using Boeing 737 and 757 aircraft.

Existing options include 12-times weekly from London Heathrow and five weekly Stansted flights with El Al, the national airline, 14 times weekly with British Airways, and up to four times weekly from Stansted with Israir Airlines. There are also some UK charters from Gatwick. Direct prices have remained high, however, with an average excursion fare being around £350.

In addition to the new Thomsonfly.com flights, El Al has just announced an increase in capacity on the route from 28 October for its winter schedule – by operating a ‘Jumbo’ Boeing 747-400 on five out of the 12 weekly flights into Tel Aviv the carrier will add 1,000 seats per week. El Al says it had planned the increase in capacity before the announcement of the new Thomsonfly flights, mainly as a result of receiving two new Boeing 777 planes into its 35 plus strong fleet allowing it to use the 747 on the London route. It will be good news for business class passengers, as on the 747 flights (Sunday to Thursday on the 1430 departure from London Heathrow) the number of business class seats will more than double.

Where Thomsonfly will be particularly strong is in Manchester. Guy Stephenson, Commercial Director of Thomsonfly.com estimates the indirect traffic from the Manchester area, which is currently travelling either via London or Europe as “around 20,000″. London Luton airport will also be particularly useful for the north London Jewish community. Stephenson identifies the flights as appealing to ‘free thinking independent travellers who want to arrange everything themselves” as well as more traditional VFR (visiting friends and relatives) and business travellers.

Despite current troubles in Gaza, year-on-year tourism from the UK to Israel is gradually increasing at around 3 per cent, with Tel Aviv reporting a huge 26 per cent increase in visitors from the UK in the first five months of this year. Most of this rise however is as a result of the arrival of 5,000 English fans for the recent England v Israel football match world qualifier.

Both El Al and Thomsonfly are allowing travellers to book accommodation through their websites. Thomsonfly is in the process of increasing the 20 hotels it currently offers through its website to around 70 in coming months, and El Al’s sister company Superstar Holidays operates a year round programme of holidays to Israel with options for stay put, city breaks, spa holidays, tailor made and special interest tours. Both websites dynamically package these options allowing them to be booked at the same time as the flights.

Prices start from £79 one way, £139.98 return, and flights are now available for booking at thomsonfly.com.

Report by Tom Otley

 

Express by Holiday Inn opens second Belfast property

Budget hotel chain Express by Holiday Inn will open its second hotel in the Belfast region next week. The Antrim property is located ten minutes from Belfast International Airport and 20 miles from the city centre. The hotel adds to the Intercontinental Hotel group’s presence in the city, with an Express property already located in the Belfast’s university quarter, and a Holiday Inn situated in the city centre.

The 90-room property has five air-conditioned meeting rooms, each with wireless internet and space for 40 people. Guestrooms are available in twin, double and interconnecting sizes, with five fully accessible rooms. Facilities include broadband internet access, cable TV and pay-movies, direct-dial telephones, wardrobe and desktop workspace. Rates start at £59 per night and include full buffet breakfast.

The Belfast region has seen an increase in both business and leisure visitors in the last few years, with a 5 per cent rise in business visitors in 2006 and a 12 per cent rise in leisure visitors in 2005. According to the Northern Ireland Tourist board, hotel rooms sold have increased by 26 percent across the region since 1998’s Good Friday agreement.

Express by Holiday Inn is the budget chain of the InterContinental Hotel Group, with other brands including InterContinental, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn. For a look at Belfast’s recent regeneration projects, read the forthcoming July/August issue of Business Traveller.

Express by Holiday Inn Antrim,
Ballymena Rd.
Antrim,
Northern Ireland

hiexpressantrim.co.uk
+44 (0)870 890 9977

Report by Lucinda Housley

Warwick International Hotels rolls out “fashion” rooms in Brussels

Brussels-bound travellers now have a fashionable alternative to their normal corporate hotel room. Warwick International Hotels’ Royal Windsor Grand Place, located close to the Grand Place in the centre of the city, has just launched the last two of its 12 “Fashion rooms”.

The Fashion rooms, which have been rolling out over the last two years, were designed by 12 established fashion designers, including Marina Yee, one of the “Antwerp Six”, the group of students who took London Fashion week by storm in the eighties with their innovative ideas.The final two rooms (pictured) have just opened and are the concepts of Xavier Delcour and Christian Wijnants.

The Fashion rooms have the same in-room facilities as the hotel’s 100 Business Premiere rooms, which include: free high speed internet access, flat screen television, safe, tea and coffee making facilities, and express check-in and check-out services on request.

The 266 room five-star hotel also has Superior rooms, Business Premiere rooms, Deluxe rooms and 16 Suites. For meetings there are 15 conference rooms, all with natural daylight, which can accommodate up to 300 people. The hotel also has a fitness centre with a sauna, which is free for guests, as well as a restaurant, two bars and a nightclub.

To promote the new rooms the hotel has a Fashion Addict Package from euros 229 for two people. The offer includes: a night in a fashion room, a “Fashion Tea” with desserts made by the hotel’s pastry chef and a guide and map for all the fashion, food, art and lifestyle shops in Quartier Dansaert, the design district.

To see more images of the hotel’s Fashion rooms, click here.

Report by Felicity Cousins

Qatar and Emirates unveil Airbus orders at Paris Air Show

Middle Eastern carriers Qatar and Emirates are continuing their rapid expansion plans with new orders for both the Airbus A380 super-jumbo and A350 aircraft.

The airlines chose the backdrop of Paris’ biennial Air Show to make the announcements, with Emirates placing an order for a further eight A380s (bringing their total to a whopping 55), and rivals Qatar agreeing the purchase of 80 A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body) aircraft, although 60 of these replace last year’s order of a different version of the A350 model. Qatar also confirmed an order for a further three A380s, bringing its total for the super-jumbo to five.

Last week (see online news June 14) Business Traveller reported that Emirates, already the largest customer for the A380 before this week’s announcement, will vary the capacity of its super-jumbos from just under 500 seats on long-haul routes such as Dubai to Sydney and New York, to nearly 650 on regional routes to the subcontinent and South East Asia. The first Emirates A380s are expected to take to the skies in late 2008.

Qatar meanwhile says it will configure the A350 XWB in a two-class configuration, with between 250 and 350 seats depending on the route. But readers will have to wait sometime to experience the new aircraft, as the carrier isn’t expected to start receiving delivery until mid-2013, when it will begin to replace its Airbus A330 fleet. Back to the present though, Qatar will launch its first flights to the US next week, with a four weekly service from Doha to New York via Geneva (see online news February 21 for more details).

All in all it’s been a good week for Airbus, which has also received orders for two more A380s from Air France (bringing the French carrier’s total to 12). It’s a far cry from a year ago when the super-jumbo was mired by delays and compensation claims by disgruntled airlines – now it’s just a case of persuading customers to step onboard a plane of such magnitude. Our recent survey at businesstraveller.com revealed that 56 per cent of readers would not feel comfortable travelling on an A380 with over 500 passengers onboard, with 27 per cent stating they would only want to travel on the plane if they were in business class.

Visit emirates.com, qatarairways.com, airbus.com.

Report by Mark Caswell