Changi introduces fun before flying

Singapore’s Changi Airport has launched a new multimedia entertainment zone for the tech-savvy traveller – dubbed the Entertainment Deck.

The “one-stop integrated entertainment zone” is located on the third level of Terminal 2’s Departure Transit Mall. It features a complimentary LAN gaming room, Xbox 360

and PlayStation 3 game consoles, music corners, a free movie theatre and a comics and games collectibles shop.

Passengers can try out the latest games or relax in music booths complete with built-in speakers to watch music videos or listen to selected jazz, bossa nova or lounge tracks from the music system.

“The Entertainment Deck was conceptualised to converge various popular multimedia facilities into one dedicated area for passengers,” said Lim Kim Choon, director-general and CEO of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), who officially opened the zone.

“As travellers ourselves, we understand how passengers appreciate the range of complimentary facilities available in Changi Airport. The Entertainment Deck is part of CAAS’ efforts to constantly review and upgrade facilities to enhance the ‘Changi Experience’.”

Sara Turner

Luxury all around China with Ritz-Carlton

The Ritz-Carlton’s expansion in Asia, particularly China, is proof, once again, that luxury is here to stay.

President and COO Simon F Cooper said: “Asia-Pacific is a key territory for Ritz-Carlton and this can be seen by our growth and development in the region. We have opened two new hotels in China already in 2008 in Guangzhou and Sanya, and will open a third in Shenzhen later in the year. This is in addition to opening our first new Reserve product in Krabi in southern Thailand in the last quarter of the year.

“We have seen great demand for The Ritz-Carlton brand in Asia and we are increasing our footprint in key areas such as China… The increased wealth in the region, coupled with the increased foreign investment into the region from international corporations, has driven a greater demand for luxury brands and Ritz-Carlton is at the forefront of meeting that demand and providing luxury lifestyle experiences.”

The latest to open, and its fifth in China, is The Ritz-Carlton Sanya (pictured), following The Ritz-Carlton Guangzhou in March. The Ritz-Carlton Shenzhen, due to launch this year, will be the group’s sixth and the other openings are in Macau, Hongkong and a second in Shanghai (all in 2010).

Guests of The Ritz-Carlton Sanya will be able to appreciate the delicate work by WAT&G Design. The property draws influence from the classic building design of Beijing’s Summer Palace through high-pitched ceilings, dark rich wood, intricate carvings and mosaic detail. There are 450 rooms including 33 Pool Villas, each with their own butlers, in addition to 21 suites.

Incheon Airport does it again

Incheon International Airport (IIAC) hopes this month to repeat the feat of introducing a high-tech aviation hub to the world – which it did in March 2001 – with the unveiling of its second-phase facilities.

Starting in 2002, enhancements took six years to put into place and represent US$4 billion in investment. This has produced a simple but elegant passenger terminal and a gigantic 4,000-metre runway, capable of accommodating jumbo aircraft such as the Airbus A380. According to IIAC president and CEO Jaehee Lee, the new runway would raise the number of flights from the current 240,000 to 410,000 annually, allowing the facility to outstrip its toughest regional competitors.

Other innovations include the  “Starline” automated transport system running between the passenger terminal and boarding areas in the newly constructed concourse, and the NAVAIDS technology. All this means is that Incheon Airport is in possession of top-class hardware and software to handle 50 million passengers and five million metric tonnes of cargo a year.

With Korea as one of the world’s IT powerhouses, Incheon Airport has benefited tremendously, creating an environment that enables fast and convenient immigration processing. An abundance of cyber-terminals, using mobile technology, helps travellers book tickets, check in and receive boarding passes and do last-minute shopping. Lee describes it as an  “airport in your hand”, wherein users can access the airport 24/7. Available too is an advanced self check-in system and  “U-Immigration” system applying the latest biometric techniques.

Waiting for flights can be unpleasant business, and the IIAC folks have gone the extra mile to provide a stimulating environment for passengers. This is where the Airstar concept comes in, offering unique retail options and services to make everyone feel pampered and engaged. Amenities in both the passenger terminal and concourse such as deluxe lounges and bars, internet stations, rest areas and viewing rooms are conveniently located.

While the body is fed and the yen for shopping satisfied, the soul is also not neglected with cultural presentations and exhibitions planned on a regular basis, aiming to train the spotlight on Korean talent. Such activities, says Lee, will hopefully help the airport evolve into an exciting  “cultureport”.

Margie T Logarta

Hyatt’s big push into China

WITH CHINA SET TO MAKE ITS BIGGEST STATEMENT yet with the Olympic Games in August, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts is also using the country as a platform for some of its most high-profile projects.

The Grand Hyatt Guangzhou, which opened in April, will be followed by the July openings of the Park Hyatt Beijing – marking the brand’s debut in China – and Park Hyatt Shanghai (bringing the number of Hyatts in the city to three, including Grand Hyatt Pudong and Hyatt on the Bund).

Says Steve Haggerty, global head of Real Estate & Development, Global Hyatt Corporation: “This represents a strong push to strengthen Hyatt’s presence in Asia. Our discerning leisure and business guests will now have an even broader range of destinations from which to choose and an authentic Hyatt experience to host them.”

Grand Hyatt Guangzhou features 375 rooms and is located in the new Central Business District of Tianhe, near the International Exhibition Center. It offers five restaurants and bars, indoor bamboo garden, an indoor rooftop pool and 24-hour fitness centre among others.

Occupying the top floors of the 66-storey, mixed-use Beijing Yintai Centre development, the city’s first Park Hyatt will also be its highest hotel. Designed by renowned architect John Portman, the main Park Tower features penthouses, along with Park Life, an innovative lifestyle hub by the trend-setting Super Potato group.

The Park Hyatt Shanghai, near its sister property Grand Hyatt Shanghai, is located from floors 79 to 93 of the 101-storey Shanghai World Financial Center. Interiors are designed by Tony Chi, along the lines of a modern Chinese residence.

Ensuing years will see more rolling off the production line in the form of Grand Hyatt Macau, Grand Hyatt Shenzhen (both 2009) and Grand Hyatt Hyderabad (2011); Park Hyatt Ningbo Resort and Spa, Park Hyatt Koh Samui (both 2009) and Park Hyatt Guangzhou (2011); Hyatt Regency Hongkong Tsimshatsui, Hyatt Regency Beijing, Hyatt Regency Nanjing (all 2009), Hyatt Regency Chengdu, Hyatt Regency Suzhou and Hyatt Regency Danang Resort and Spa (all 2010). Late last year, it opened the Hyatt Regency Jing Jin City Resort and Spa, which is starting construction of its second phase shortly.

Ngong Ping’s new private cabins

The next time you want to treat visitors to a “wow” experience in Hongkong, consider booking an entire Ngong Ping cable car. Ngong Ping 360 offers spectacular panoramas of the Hongkong International Airport, North Lantau Country Park and the Big Buddha.

The Private Cabin Service Package includes priority boarding and a round-trip experience. Visa Platinum cardholders can avail of the “Buy 3, Get 1 Free” promotion when purchasing Ngong Ping 360 cable-car packages with their credit cards. For every three cable-car packages bought, a fourth package equal to the lowest value package purchased will go for free. This is good until September 30.

In the same period, cardholders using the Private Cabin Service will receive up to six free admission tickets to the Monkey’s Tale Theatre or Walking with Buddha.

On normal days, the Private Cabin Service costs US$230 per cabin, and US$307 on Sundays and special days. Each unit can hold up to 17 guests (10 seated, seven standing). For more details, visit www.np360.com.hk

Travelling made easier with Garde Rode

Garde Robe has given new meaning to the concept of “travelling light”.

Members of this unique New York-based concierge service have been storing their clothing, shoes, personal effects and toiletries with them for some time now. And recently, Garde Robe expanded its services to Tokyo.

How it works is that members store their apparel and personal items with Garde Robe, which are delivered to the hotel where they are staying in ready-to-wear condition. These allows clients to travel without the hassle of waiting in baggage claim lines. At the end of the trip, these are retrieved by a Garde Robe representative for inspection and cleaning if required.

To simplify the garment request process, all stored items are professionally photographed and catalogued onto a secure “Cyber Closet”, which clients can access 24/7 at www.garderobeonline.com. The company will also pack and ship garments worldwide.

Hilton’s new executive tower in Beijing

Hilton Beijing gears up for the 2008 Olympic games with the launch of its new US$32 million Executive Tower.

The adjoining facility consists of 126 Executive Rooms and Suites, including the luxurious Chairman’s Suite. Spread over nine floors, this premier product is equipped with a Bang & Olufsen sound system. The infusion brings the total room inventory of Hilton Beijing to 503.

A total of five multipurpose function rooms with state-of-the art facilities have also been introduced to enhance the meetings and events experience at the hotel.

Vlad Reyes, Hilton Beijing’s General manager, said at the opening ceremony: “ Hilton has seen the business travel sector grow and we anticipate that to continue. With premium facilities and Hilton’s excellent location in Beijing, the Executive Tower will allow us to build on Hilton’s popularity among business travellers and cement our position as Beijing’s leading business hotel.”

Lau Liang Tong

Upscale mountain projects in China

Melco China Resorts (MCR), the largest ski operator in China, is investing in a high-end mountain project. It recently topped out two hotels at the Yabuli Sun Mountain Resort and also broke ground for its first luxurious mountain home project, available for sale by year-end.

International architects will be behind the designs.

According to the China Ski Association, the total number of ski visits in China has been increasing steadily, and will be at 10 million by 2010. MCR is transforming five existing ski areas in the northeastern provinces of Jeilongjiang and Jilin into unique, year-round mountain destinations. The company has plans to secure additional areas and develop further resorts in the coming years.

Yabuli Sun Mountain Resort is the core focus of MCR’s immediate efforts with three premium hotels, including an all-suite boutique mountaintop property. Located about two hours southeast of Harbin City, Yabuli is well known around China and will host the World Winter University Games in early 2009.

MCR also intends to upgrade its Sky Mountain Beidahu and Star Mountain Beijing resorts. Meanwhile, work continues on its Adventure Mountain Changchun Resort and members-only Lotus Mountain Club, which will be ready by 2009.

Margie T Logarta

Silverjet goes bust

All-business class carrier Silverjet has ceased operations as of today (May 30), a week after its shares were suspended.

A statement on its website says:

“When our inaugural flight took off in January
2007, we pledged to change the face of air travel. Your appreciation of
our unique values and your belief in our product has allowed us to
achieve this.

Your belief in us was shared by our investors – but regrettably, due to
unforeseen circumstances, they were unable to unlock the finance that
we needed. As a result, we are very sad to announce that from 30 May
2008, we will cease operations and we are no longer able to honour
flight reservations.

We extend our sincerest apologies to those of you who have travel plans
with Silverjet in the future and at present. You are advised to seek
alternative travel arrangements with other carriers, and contact your
credit card company or travel agent directly for information on
obtaining refunds.

We are working actively with new investors who are prepared to inject
new funds so we can recommence operations. If we are able to achieve
this, we will make an announcement as soon as possible and we hope to
be able to bring you our very ‘sivilised’ flying experience again.”

Silverjet’s demise follows the failure of rival all-business class carriers Maxjet and Eos (see online news January 2 and April 28), leaving French airline L’Avion as the only dedicated business class carrier flying across the pond (Lufthansa does provide an all-business class service from Frankfurt to New York Newark). The announcement has produced a flurry of forum comments by readers – click here to view the latest posts.

For more information visit flysilverjet.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

AA discontinues Stansted – JFK flights

American Airlines is to cease its service between London Stansted and New York JFK from this July.

The US carrier says the cutback is “among a number of first-round
reductions to American’s flight schedule as part of the airline’s
previously announced plans to reduce capacity in an effort to
significantly reduce costs and create a more sustainable
supply-and-demand balance in the marketplace.”

In March AA announced it would be postponing its second daily Stansted
– JFK service (see online news March 4), and this latest decision leaves Stansted without any services to New York, following the failure of all-business class carriers Maxjet and Eos (see online news January 2 and April 28).

For more information visit aa.com.

Report by Mark Caswell