Just landed

Businesstraveller.com compiles this week’s stories from the lighter side of business travel.

Pillow talk

Conrad Hotels and Resorts has introduced a “pillow menu” for guests, with “destination-based and mood-inspired” varieties available at its properties worldwide. Guests at the Conrad Bangkok can try out the “Shogun Pillow”, made of woven tatami rush designed to moderate temperature, absorb humidity and keep air fresh, while at the Conrad Chicago the “Cold and Flu Pillow” is infused with four essential oils to relieve congestion and muscle aches. In total there are 75 different types on offer – enough to send you to sleep.

Lounging around

Emirates is to install state-of-the-art massage chairs at all of its 18 airport lounges worldwide, following successful trials at its lounge in Singapore. The airline plans to roll out the chairs over the next few months, and describes the experience as being like a “seat spa” – presumably without the indoor swimming pool and steam room.

It’s no yolk

The Hilton Copenhagen Airport hotel has hatched an idea for the stressed traveller – the Golden Egg spa treatment. Guests shell out to lie cocooned inside the hollow of a soundproofed, super-sized golden egg, affording the user a “deep sense of relaxation and stillness”. Perfect for the business traveller with scrambled nerves – we wonder if anyone else will poach the idea?

Mind your manners

Transport for London is launching a series of posters and short films aimed at encouraging travellers to be more considerate of one another when using public transport. The ads show the effects on other passengers of anti-social behaviour such as talking on mobile phones or playing music too loud. Ken Livingstone, mayor of London, says the campaign examines ways of making our journeys “more pleasant and less stressful”. So presumably it will also tackle the issues of delays, overcrowding and price hikes.

What a drag

The Haymarket hotel in London is launching a weekly cabaret show at its pool bar, featuring West End drag artists “The Globe Girls”. The performances take place at 7.30pm and 9.30pm every Friday night, and according to the hotel, you can expect “polished performances and a dazzling array of costumes featuring extravagant feathers and sparkling diamonds” – sounds like a normal day at the Business Traveller office to me.

By Mark Caswell

Green news

T5’s green pledges

The opening of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is now just a couple of months away, and BAA has released details of some of the facility’s green initiatives. The company says that 85 per cent of the rainwater hitting the terminal building will be collected and recycled for non-potable uses, while the same percentage of heat for T5 will be supplied by excess energy produced by the Heathrow heat and power station.

BAA has planted 30,000 native woodland plants and 4,000 trees and shrubs around the terminal (although note it was also forced to divert two river channels around the perimeter of T5 as part of the development). Other green initiatives include ground vehicles complying with the latest exhaust emissions standards, low-flush toilets, and secure bicycle storage to encourage environmentally friendly transport to and from the terminal.

The airport group also says T5 has been built on reclaimed land from a previous sludge works, but while this may be environmentally friendly, it could work out costly for BAA. It appears the terminal has been built on land partly owned by the Crown Estate, and compensation has yet to be agreed, something which could end up amounting to £20 million as the Crown will be obliged to seek suitable payment to protect taxpayer’s interests.

For more information visit baa.com/t5, and for an in-depth look at the new terminal, subscribe to the April edition of Business Traveller.

Air France makes green pledges

The Air France Group has announced plans to limit greenhouse emissions and noise pollution between now and 2020.

The group says that an annual investment of €2 billion will allow it to meet targets, including a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions on domestic and French overseas departments routes between 2005 and 2012, and a reduction in fuel consumed per standard passenger to 3.70 litres per 100km by 2012. It is also pledging to reduce noise pollution to a level below that attained in 2005, and is investing in cleaner ground services equipment in airports.

Air France introduced a CO2 emissions calculator on its website last year and also launched a carbon-offset programme in partnership with non-profit organisation Good Planet.

For more information visit airfrance.com.

HSBC launches Hertz Green Collection promotion

Businesses applying for an HSBC commercial credit card before February 29 will go into a draw to win a week’s free car rental from Hertz’s Green Collection.

There are 52 one-week prizes on offer, and in addition, HSBC says it will donate £2 to the World Wildlife Fund for every successful application.

Cars in the Hertz Green Collection have a CO2 output of less than 140g/km, and do between 40 and 65 miles to the gallon depending on their engine size.

For more information visit businessoffers.hsbc.co.uk.

Report by Mark Caswell

Qatar launches two-for-one promotion

Doha-based airline Qatar Airways is offering free companion tickets on selected routes from Gatwick for bookings made before February 15, 2008.

Passengers can choose from 15 destinations from the London airport, including Bangkok, Cape Town, Dubai, Singapore and Johannesburg. Examples of the fare savings include £486 for a pair of economy tickets London-Dubai (or £243 each), and £3,279 for two business class flights London-Singapore (or £1,640 per ticket).

Travel periods for the offer are from now until February 15, February 25 to March 14, and March 25-31. Passengers must travel together on all sectors and bookings must be made through the Qatar Airways reservations line on +44 (0)870 389 8090.

For more information visit qatarairways.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

SIA announces A380 UK debut

Singapore Airlines has revealed that March 18 will be the launch date for its A380 flights to London.

The superjumbo will feature on flight number SQ308, departing Singapore at 0900 and arriving in London at 1505. The return leg SQ309 will leave the capital at 1855 the same day, landing in Singapore at 1535. Tickets for the inaugural flights are now on sale at singaporeair.com.

After March 18, the aircraft will ply the London-Singapore route daily under flight numbers SQ322 (London-bound) and SQ317 (Singapore-bound). The Singapore-London leg departs at 2320, arriving at 0525 the next day, while the return leg leaves London at 1100, arriving in Singapore at 0740 the next day.

Customers should note that there will most likely be a surcharge for the first-class suites on the A380, as was the case with the Singapore-Sydney route (see online news November 14, 2007). SIA says that customers holding ticketed bookings on flights to be operated by the A380 will be automatically accommodated on the new aircraft, but those holding bookings not yet ticketed will need to check with the airline for possible fare changes.

London is the second destination for the superjumbo after its launch to Sydney in October 2007. For a review of the business class offering on board the A380 by our Asia-Pacific editor Margie Logarta, click here.

For more information visit singaporeair.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Loyalty update

Hilton removes black-out restrictions

Members of the Hilton HHonors loyalty scheme will no longer have to navigate the dreaded “black-out dates” when redeeming points for hotel stays.

The hotel group is removing all black-out restrictions from its loyalty programme as of February 1, so if a standard room is available at any of its properties, members will be able to use their points, regardless of the date.

Adam Burke, senior vice-president of customer loyalty for Hilton Hotels Corporation, says: “Our goal is always to make travelling easier for our guests, and no black-out dates is a significant way to offer our loyal members more flexibility to use their points on their schedule.”

The Hilton Family of Hotels (as the collection of Hilton brands is now known) numbers over 2,900 properties worldwide.

For more information visit hilton.com.

Jet enhances online redemptions

Jet Airways customers can now redeem miles online through its Jet Privilege scheme. Enhancements to the carrier’s website mean JP members are now to able view award-seat availability, redeem miles, pay taxes and print their award e-tickets at jetairways.com.

Previously, members had to fax through award requests, visit a Jet Airways office or call the Jet Privilege service centre. The new facility means award tickets can be booked online up to two hours prior to departure for domestic sectors within India, and six hours for international sectors.

For more information visit jetairways.com.

Aer Arann launches Silver Club

Regional carrier Aer Arann has announced an “invitation-only” recognition programme for frequent flyers. The Silver Club will offer the most loyal Aer Arann customers additional benefits, including executive lounge access at Dublin and Cork airports, no fees for flight changes, increased checked baggage allowance of 25kg, and a dedicated customer service telephone line and section on the Aer Arann website.

Colin Lewis, head of sales and marketing for Aer Arann, says: “There are two types of loyalty scheme: reward and recognition. For a small airline, a reward-based scheme would mean a world of pain in terms of management and systems, so we’ve decided to go for a recognition-based scheme where we’ll choose our top customers and invite them to join.”

At this stage it is not clear just how loyal a customer you’ll need to be to become a Silver Club member, but if you have been invited to join, let us know via the “Add a comment” feature below.

For more information visit aerarann.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

AA launches mobile internet site, in-flight wifi to follow

AA767

American Airlines has announced two innovations for 2008 – a mobile version of its website, and the forthcoming launch of broadband internet in-flight.

AA customers can now view a mobile-optimised version of aa.com via their mobile phone or PDA, enabling them to access their itinerary, check in for flights, view schedules or contact the carrier. Other features will be added to aa.com/mobile later this year, including the ability to book tickets, change reservations and enrol in the AAdvantage loyalty scheme.

Meanwhile, AA has also installed broadband internet capabilities on 15 of its Boeing 767-200 aircraft. The facility, in partnership with telecommunications company Aircell, will be available to transcontinental passengers once testing has been completed.

American says the chargeable service will offer wifi internet coverage, including free access to aa.com, and compatibility with Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to enable access to corporate intranet and email sites. The service will however be limited to data exchange, which means no VOIP phone compatibility.

Details of launch dates and charges have yet to be announced, but AA says that if trials on its 767 aircraft are successful, it could look to extend the service across its domestic fleet.

For more information visit aa.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Flight numbers

100 million The amount in UK pounds Sterling spent on the Park Plaza County Hall hotel, due to open on February 1. The property has 398 rooms and is located near Waterloo station.

10.3 million The number of visitors to Singapore in 2007. The Singapore Tourist Board says it recorded just under 500,000 visitors from the UK last year – up 1.5 per cent on 2006.

4 million The record number of people passing through Brisbane airport in 2007. The figure was helped by the addition of China Eastern and Etihad flights to the Australian city last year.

85,000 The number of people who have registered an interest in flying into space with Virgin Galactic. The company unveiled the latest designs for its spaceship last week, and test flights are due to start this summer.

527 The number of lounges now available to premium passengers within the Oneworld Alliance – an increase of 66 in the last six months. The main reason for the rise is the addition of affiliate carrier Dragonair in November 2007.

100 The number of years since the opening of the Waldorf Hilton. The iconic hotel celebrates its official centenary this week, and will be holding a number of events throughout the year, including a Tango Tea in February.

60 The number of storeys in the new Intercontinental Doha West Bay, due to open in 2009. The 540-room property will comprise both hotel rooms and serviced apartments, and is the second Intercontinental in the Qatari capital.

54.6 The percentage of visitors to businesstraveller.com who say their baggage has been lost or delayed by an airline more than once. Just 12.5 per cent said they had never experienced the inconvenience. Click here to take part in our latest survey.

13.2 The percentage increase in passengers recorded by Swiss Airlines last year. The airline carried a record 12,208,558 travellers on its scheduled services in 2007.

One The first Millennium Hotels and Resorts property has opened in the UAE. The Copthorne Hotel Dubai is located in Port Saeed, and has 163 rooms, four restaurants, a swimming pool and a fitness centre.

by Mark Caswell

Hilton plans T5 property

Hilton is to join the growing number of hotel groups locating in or around Heathrow’s T5. The brand has announced plans for a 350-room property to be located in Poyle, just west of the M25 at junction 14, the closest junction to the forthcoming Heathrow terminal.

The hotel will be operated by Hospitality Management Ltd, under a 20-year franchise agreement with Shiva, and is due to open in 2010. The T5 property will be Hilton’s second Heathrow hotel, the other being located close to Terminal 4.

Other new hotels in the area include Travelodge, which recently opened a 295-room T5 property, also located by junction 14 of the M25, and Sofitel, which is due to open the only on-terminal hotel at T5 this summer.

For an in-depth look at the opening of Heathrow’s Terminal 5, subscribe to the April 2008 edition of Business Traveller magazine.

For more information visit hilton.co.uk, travelodge.co.uk, sofitelheathrow.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Premier Inn to open second hotel in Reading

Britain’s largest hotel group is to open a new hotel in the centre of Reading this April. The new 151-room hotel is in the heart of Reading town, just opposite the Oracle shopping centre, and is the second Premier Inn hotel in Reading.

The hotel group, part of Whitbread, has ambitious plans to expand the number of rooms in its portfolio from 35,000 today, to 45,000 by 2010. This month the group bought six hotels under the Tulip Inn and Golden Tulip brands, and made its first foray into Ireland with the opening of the Dublin airport property.

Reading is proving to be an attractive draw for hoteliers, positioned just 25 miles from Heathrow and 30 minutes by rail to London. Hilton is to open a 210-room hotel in south-west Reading in April 2009, and last year Malmaison opened a luxury 75-room boutique property, transforming what was once the Great Western Rail hotel. Accor also joined the growing market in 2006, with Novotel and Ibis properties opening adjacent to each other (click here for Business Traveller’s review).

Accor group, which owns brands such as Sofitel and Pullman, opened two hotels in Reading in 2006 – the Ibis and Novotel. The 182-room Ibis Reading Centre is aimed at the budget market and is only a three-minute walk from the station. Next to the Ibis in Friar Street, is the new 178-room four-star Novotel, aimed at the mid-market business traveller.

For more information visit premierinn.com.

By Carmen Coyne

Thistle announces revamp

Thistle Hotels will invest more than £100 million this year on rebranding 25 of its 32 UK hotels by May.

The first three hotels to be rebranded will be the Atlantic Tower in Liverpool, and Kensington Gardens and Trafalgar Square, in London. The group is positioning itself as the “informal upmarket hotel group” and will now simply be known as “Thistle”.

A new user-friendly website will also be launching in April with four times more information than the present one. Chris Gillett, chief operating officer of Thistle Hotels, explains: “Thistle has strong brand recognition and our portfolio has an excellent presence throughout the UK. However, in a few areas our product was a little dated and required investment.”

Bedrooms, public spaces and restaurant offerings have all been updated. Guests will notice the change as soon as they enter the new Thistles. The reception areas are being scrapped and replaced by stand-alone check-in terminals with chairs and plasma screens. BT Openzone is available throughout the hotels, and 32-inch plasma screen TVs have been installed in all of the new bedrooms.

Thistle has also updated its meetings product. Now all incidentals, such as flip charts, pens, photocopying and so on will be included in the price. Stuart Leven, sales and marketing director, says: “The day has gone when hotels can charge for these things. These are the things you just have to offer customers. It’s not about just changing the sign over the door.”

The brand has been developed over the last two years after extensive customer research. Leven adds: “I’m a firm believer in shouting about something once it has been done, rather than shouting about something before you do it.”

Leven says the new brand will appeal to business travellers because it is “inline with modern business travel requirements such as connectivity, fine dining, and service”.

More good news for business travellers is that guests staying at sister-brand Guoman should benefit from a loyalty programme it is launching by July, with Thistle also considering a loyalty programme for the future.

For more information visit thistle.com.

By Felicity Cousins