Pune joins Lufthansa network

India’s manufacturing hub of Pune recently joined Lufthansa’s Business Jet network, following New York and Chicago. Important European car manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Renault, Fiat, Audi and DaimlerChrysler among others have established large operations in this city, 200km southeast of Mumbai. For international travellers, this is welcome news as the city was difficult to reach.

An Airbus A319 has been refitted as a business jet, featuring 48 lie-flat seats which when fully reclined, provide an almost horizontal sleeping surface measuring 2m in length. Other perks include bigger seat pitches, wider tabletops, power ports for laptops and a reading lamp integrated into the seat.

Pune, which is twinned with Bremen has about 200 German companies represented there. Flights depart Pune at 0529 daily except Sunday, arriving Frankfurt at 1050. Return is 1615 daily except Saturday, arriving India 0400.

Lufthansa’s Frankfurt-Newark and Frankfurt-Chicago business jet services are also six times weekly. These cater to bankers and businessmen. For more details, visit www.lufthansa.com

SkyCity complex gets new hotel resident

It’s a view of the shimmering South China Sea or the Nine Eagles Executive Golf Course for guests of SkyCity Marriott Hotel that is set for a soft opening in a few weeks’ time.

The launch of this 658-room property brings closer to completion the airport-located Hongkong SkyCity, which also includes AsiaWorld-Expo and SkyPier. At 70,000 cubic metres of space, AsiaWorld is the largest exhibition venue in Hongkong, while SkyPier facilitates commuter travel between Hongkong and the Mainland by boat and ferry.

Besides catering to transit passengers, the Marriott’s room inventory, large by Hongkong standards, can lodge exhibitors attending shows at AsiaWorld. A footbridge links both buildings, while a car park separates the hotel from Terminal 2. According to general manager Bob Jensch, there is every possibility to host concertgoers watching shows at AsiaWorld, and having the chain’s branded Quan Spa on the premises opens up the local weekend market.

The conference sector is likewise a prime target of the hotel, which features 1,300sqm of meeting space. For families and groups visiting Disneyland, the park is less than a 20-minute ride away, while the Citygate Outlet Mall and Giant Buddha/Ngong Ping Cable Car attractions are also nearby. Visit www.marriott.com for more details.

InterContinental club lounge inspired by local culture

InterContinental Hotels & Resorts prides itself on promoting the local heritage of destinations where an InterCon flag happens to be flying. The Peranakan-themed InterContinental Singapore is a good example.

Drawing inspiration from the ornate art and culture of the Peranakans or Straits-born Chinese, the hotel features intricate mirrors, batu ribbons and louvred windows along the corridors imbuing the ambience with a sense of old Singapore. This feeling is now carried into the new Club InterContinental Lounge, which displays a blend of intricately carved wood panels, richly patterned carpets and exquisite chinoiserie and the latest technology. Leisure meets efficiency in a serene setting.

Guests seeking in-depth knowledge about Singapore can peruse a well-stocked library that even includes Peranakan literature. While those chasing deadlines always have personalised support at hand, whether that means high-speed connectivity or a boardroom to host private meetings. Meals are a whole-day affair, beginning with a hot dish breakfast all the way to evening canapés. Visit www.ihg.com

Ninoy Aquino still fine tuning

Three Philippine airlines are now operating out of the once-controversial Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA-3), which began commercial operations for domestic flights in July, after almost six years of delay due to a lengthy legal battle between the Philippine government and the project’s main contractor, Philippine International Air Terminals Company. NAIA-3 was to have opened in 2002.

NAIA-3’s first tenants are Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines’ PAL Express and Air Express.

On the first of August, low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific started up international services, a prelude to when NAIA-3 is expected to host more foreign airlines in February or March of next year.

While facilities remained at a minimum at press time, and certain portions of the terminal still appeared to be in the construction phase, lighting and air-conditioning were working properly. But travellers are warned to expect some delays as glitches in the systems continue to be fine tuned. Visit www.miaa.gov.ph

Growing the shopping factor in Chinese airports

When it comes to consuming luxury goods, China is right up there with the best of them. In fact, it is reportedly the third largest market in the world with an appetite for bling and fancy.

While gargantuan glitzy malls sprawl across prime property in many Chinese cities, both major and emerging, the country’s airports have yet to line their marble halls with boutiques laden with designer labels and gewgaws. While passenger movements are up 18 percent on 2007, the growth in services revenue is only 4.4 percent.

Working to improve this record, the China Civil Aviation Association (CAAS), representing all of China’s commercial hubs, has organised the first China Airport Retail Expo in Shanghai from November 26 to 29, a platform meant to bring together local airports and retail conceptualisers from around the world.

The event, it is hoped, will result in a number of signed contracts and creative partnerships between the parties, resulting in a more stimulating airport environment as found in old hands such as Singapore Changi Airport and Hongkong International Airport.

Expected participants include Nuance Watson, SSP Food Services and the Huai Hai Group, along with brand leaders such as Swarovski, Victorinox, Swatch, Cerruti 1881, Giovanni Valentino, Mars and Hershey’s among others.

The expo builds upon the success of the China Airport Retail Summit held last year in Beijing. This year’s gathering takes place in the Shanghai Mart Exhibition Centre in the Hongqiao district. For more details, go to www.gisconsult.net/retailexpo

Well rested at Frasers

Serviced residence operator Frasers Hospitality is now offering more than just stylish lodging for long stays. Expect many of its newly launched properties to feature meeting rooms as well, which will be exclusive to residents.

Fraser Suites Nanjing in the emerging business district of Jianye offers not only two meeting rooms for 12 people each, but also a quiet den-like area to repair to before the next session. For those who’ve developed stiff joints from sitting too long, a red-leather massage chair stands at the ready to relieve. Visit www.frasershospitality.com for more information.

Beijing Olympics: Well organised, well done

For those who’ve “been there, seen that” and were fortunate to have attended the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics last month, this was another notch on the bragging belt.

But regardless of background, everyone in the Beijing National Stadium agreed it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What the TV audience (2 billion viewers according to Nielsen Co.) didn’t see or go through was the clockwork processing of the guests, which involved a minutely organised security and logistics plan that will undoubtedly go down in case histories of successful gargantuan events.

Herding 91,000 people (seating capacity of the now iconic “Bird’s Nest”) into an enclosed space is no joke and had to be done with unerring precision, or there would have been utter chaos. Nothing of the sort happened, thanks to cutting-edge technology.

Upon entering, crowds were directed to specific queues, according to seat location, with their belongings slipping through airport-type machines. The guests themselves also underwent unprecedented scrutiny, passing through a scanner, which matched the face with information provided beforehand. If all corresponded, the screen quickly flashed “Pass”. This only took a few seconds.

Getting lost in that huge venue was next to impossible, given the multitude of eager-to-help volunteer guides roaming different sections. Not only did viewers receive a warm welcome from the Games staff but also a goody bag on their seats, containing two flags (one Chinese, the other with the Olympic symbol), a torch light, laser light, noise maker, bottle of mineral water and scarf with a Beijing Olympics motif.

This being China, food prices were also strictly regulated within the Bird’s Nest premises. A bottle of mineral water cost only CNY3 (43 cents), beer, from CNY5 to CNY8 (73 cents to US$1.17), depending on the size, and hotdog or noodle between CNY2 (29 cents) and CNY3 (43 cents). “This was amazing as you can’t get a hotdog at such a price in New York or anywhere else,” said Business Traveller group publisher Peggy Teo, one of the impressed throng that night.

With the whole stadium grounds as the stage, Teo said every moment “produced an unexpected surprise”, adding, “You never knew what would happen next”.

For one rare moment, politics took a backseat. Teo recalled: “When the Taiwan team came in, people cheered because the team called themselves Chinese Taiwan and used an Olympic banner instead of the Taiwan flag.”

What a show of give and take – and real sportsmanship.

Sylvia Wu

Perks for VIPs with CTRIP

Regular users of CTRIP, a leading Chinese travel consultant, should take advantage of its VIP card, which nets up to 50 percent discounts at 3,000 participating restaurants, bars and shops in China.

Since 1999, the Shanghai-headquartered CTRIP has been providing services in hotel bookings, air tickets, holidays and corporate travel management. Its website www.ctrip.com has been dispensing destination information, travel news and tips, while the company also publishes travel magazines and books.

Over 28,000 hotels can be booked through CTRIP. To help customers booking air tickets, complimentary delivery is provided in 49 major Chinese cities, while last-minute bookers can avail of the One-Hour Express Ticketing Service for an accelerated three-ticket booking.

CTRIP has branch offices in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, as well as a presence in 48 countries around the world.

Meet, then fly off with new Asiana lounge

Small meetings can take place before flights in Asiana’s new premium lounge at Incheon International Airport’s recently launched West terminal. The conference room for eight persons is part of the services offered, along with showers, free internet and a home theatre for six viewers.

Meals are presented buffet style in a separate dining hall or à la carte at certain times of the day.

The facility is divided into the First Class Lounge, which can accommodate 156 passengers and the Business Class Lounge, which can take in 241 passengers. In the main terminal building, Asiana’s old lounge hosts 156 in First Class and 224 in Business Class. Asiana’s lounges welcome premium passengers on Asiana flights or Star Alliance members. Visit www.flyasiana.com/english

AirAsia heads for UK

Record fuel prices will not scupper plans to launch budget flights from London to Malaysia, AirAsia’s founder and group chief executive Tony Fernandes has pledged.

Earlier this year, Kuala Lumpur-based AirAsia revealed plans to sell flights from the Malaysian capital to Stansted, under the AirAsia X brand, aiming at business as well as leisure travellers.

A Christmas launch was targeted, but Fernandes said problems sourcing a suitable aircraft had led to a slight delay.

“The earliest will now be next March and the latest, June. We were hoping to start in November or December,” he said. A team is currently in final talks at Stansted. “We are 90 percent there,” Fernandes added.

AirAsia X has sourced an Airbus A340-300 on which it will carry 386 passengers, including 58 in a premium economy cabin. This will have inclined flatbed seats with a 50-inch pitch.

Economy Class fares London-Kuala Lumpur were originally set to be around £300 (US$559) return, but Fernandes admitted the oil price meant this was now more likely to be about £350 (US$653).

AirAsia X plans to price its Premium Economy section against Malaysia Airlines’ full-fare Economy Class ticket. Passengers will have to pay for food.

AirAsia says it can risk launching the London service despite the economic uncertainty. Unlike Oasis Hongkong Airlines, which collapsed earlier this year, it has been operating for seven years and already carries 22 million passengers – 7 million more than Malaysia Airlines. AirAsia X already flies to China and Australia from Kuala Lumpur.

“I believe one of the best times to expand is during a period of flux,” said Fernandes.

AirAsia, which continues to fly to heavily oriented holiday destinations, is beginning to target business travellers by expanding on trunk routes between Kuala Lumpur, Hongkong, Bangkok and Singapore.

It flies seven times a day to Bangkok and hopes to expand its Kuala Lumpur-Singapore service from two to eight a day when an open skies deal comes into force in December. “Our target is 15 times a day, there is a huge market,” Fernandes said. For more information, visit www.airasia.com

Gary Noakes