SIA increases Middle East flights, reduces Asian services

“Strong demand” and “good business growth potential”, according to a Singapore Airlines spokesperson, were compelling reasons for an increase in frequency between Singapore and the Middle East.

From December 14, SIA will begin four time weekly flights to Riyadh via Dubai on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, bumping up Dubai flights to 20 times a week. The spokesperson added: “We see Riyadh becoming a focal point of travel and trade for visitors to Saudi Arabia.”

SIA has also increased Istanbul flights from four to six flights weekly.

Frequencies in Asia-Pacific, however, went south with “adjustments during the Northern Winter schedule”, as the carrier described moves taken on several sectors. Flights to Penang will now be 18 weekly and to Ho Chi Minh, 17 weekly; flights SQ608 (Singapore-Seoul) and SQ609 (Seoul-Singapore) will be reduced; Osaka will be served once a day by SQ618 (Singapore-Osaka) and SQ617 (Osaka-Singapore), while SQ622 and SQ621 will be suspended; flights to Bangalore and Chennai are also minimised but the cities will continue to enjoy daily service.

Service to Amritsar will cease from February 4, 2009, and customers booked on flights to and from the destinations will be re-accommodated on SIA flights to and from Delhi.

Also in February 2009, SIA will link its Cape Town flights to Johannesberg, with no change in frequency. The Cape Town extension will operate on three flights weekly, while the daily service to Joannesburg is maintained.

For more details, visit www.singaporeair.com.

Margie T Logarta

Select Hotels and Resorts refines website

Booking rooms online in some of Asia-Pacific’s luxury properties just got easier as Select Hotels and Resorts International launched its newly revamped website which is also designed as an online marketing portal for its member hotels.

The site (www.selecthotels.com) features large hotel images and a simple, uncluttered look aimed at making navigation easy for travellers making online hotel reservations. Users can easily find hotels and resorts by location, and those on a budget can quickly find great deals on offer on the site’s dedicated offers page. Charlotte Yudithira, Select marketing executive, said: “Each member property information page also offers links through the highly innovative mapping services of Google. These maps provide an image and detailed directors to each member property location.”

“Large imagery is the key feature of the new site, delivering a real sense of ‘I can picture myself there’ for the visitor,” explained Brendan Vearry of Pebble Design. “On each level of the member property such as (leisure) facilities, dining and accommodation, visuals depict each hotel’s unique offering,”

Travellers using the new site can also expect more tailored offerings from Select Hotels.

“The new-look website has been designed to generate more internet bookings via the Select site, with a booking engine now appearing on every page, said Select managing director Ralph Kelly.

Gigi Onag

PAL slowly rolls out new Business Class product

Business Class regulars of Philippine Airlines (PAL) will have to wait a little longer to use the second retrofitted Boeing B747 that features the new premium products and services.

The ongoing strike of Boeing employees has delayed work on the aircraft, which means the earliest delivery date could be December 2009.

PAL’s P3.5 billion (US$72 million) renovation of its long-range, wide-body fleet – consisting of four B747s – involves the reconfiguration of the passenger cabin from a tri-class to bi-class layout, along with a major upgrade of the interiors and amenities. The result is 42 lie-flat seats in Business Class and 383 in Economy Class.

The first enhanced B747 went into service recently and is being used on trans-Pacific flights.

Key elements of the “Mabuhay” (a Filipino greeting) Class seat, designed by German firm Recaro, include seat pitch of 60 inches, controls to adjust the seat to a variety of positions, AVOD technology carrying up to 200 films and a wide range of music selections and interactive games, noise-cancelling headsets, in-seat power for laptops, individual LED reading light, oversized tray table and bottle holder. Passengers can create their own audio playlist from a collection of CD albums.

Meal-wise, the “One by One” concept has been adopted, offering an a la carte menu and served with all the trimmings of a fine-dining restaurant any time during the journey. Noritake of Japan even designed a tropical-themed china series for PAL.

In the Economy (Fiesta) Class, seats boast the new-generation thinner seatbacks with personal TV monitors and a seat pitch of 32 to 34 inches.

Wall panels, upholstery, curtains and carpeting throughout the aircraft are in hues of blue, silver, white, gray and tan creating a coastal ambience that parts of the Philippines is famous for.

While agreeing with fellow members in the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines that the next six to 18 months would be tough, PAL president Jaime Bautista continued to believe in the potential of the Philippine market. “Filipinos (especially in the US) will continue to fly back to Manila despite any financial crisis. But for an airline to survive, it has to maintain passenger loyalty. And we are doing that by providing the service they deserve.”

Many recall the airline plunging into bankruptcy in 1998 (it was closed for two weeks) but under accountant Bautista’s management, it emerged last year from receivership impressing the industry with a leaner operating profile, improved on-time performance and brighter balance book. Said Bautista: “We foresee a 5 percent growth in traffic this year, which is not the rate we want but it’s not really bad given the circumstances.”

As part of its refleeting programme, PAL expects to take delivery of a B777ER by the end of 2009, which could lead to additional destinations on the West Coast and Midwest such as Seattle, San Diego and Chicago where large concentrations of Filipinos reside. The carrier is also considering using the new jet to New York via Vancouver.

PAL is currently in discussion with an airline alliance, which Bautista declined to name, saying: “One has to be invited to join, but we have indicated our interest to them. They said the earliest they can tell us is either in 2010 or 2011.”

On October 28, the airline resumed flights between Cebu in central Philippines and Osaka after more than seven years after the flight connection was halted due to a travel slowdown because of the 9/11 attacks in the US. Initially, the flights will operate twice weekly.

For more details, visit www.philippineairlines.com.

Margie T Logarta

New lounge at Malta International

A new
airside business class lounge has been opened at Malta International airport
(MLA), replacing the existing lounge. As the only lounge at MLA, this is the
facility all business class passengers flying out of the airport will use,
including those travelling with Air Malta, British Airways, Lufthansa and
Emirates.

The lounge
is situated on the first floor, accessible to the right at the top of the
escalators (follow signposts for VIP lounge), and has free wifi, European and
British plugs, five internet terminals and televisions. Snacks are available
throughout the day, as well as four different meal services (breakfast, lunch,
tea and dinner).

Although
flights are not called, staff walk around to notify passengers when their
flight is departing. The whole lounge has windows looking out onto the front of
the airport and is air-conditioned. In one corner there is a glass-sided
smoking area.

The new
lounge has 120 seats, an increase on the 80 seats of the old lounge, which will
be particularly useful during the peak hours of 10.30am-1.30pm, when departures
by Lufthansa, Air Malta, Alitalia and Emirates used to cause congestion.

Emirates
flies five times weekly from Malta, rising to daily from December. With over
600,000 ethnic Maltese living in Australia, the main route between the two
countries is via Dubai, with the carrier using a B777 on the route. Malta’s
airport will see approximately 3,150,000 passengers in 2008 (up 5.5 per cent
from last year), 35 per cent of whom are flying to and from the UK.

The lounge
is open 24 hours a day and access will be available for one-off purchase at
check-in from January at a price of €29 per passenger. The airport also runs a
La Valette Club for frequent flyers, with two tier levels costing €190 or €750
per year (the latter includes free travel insurance, free parking in the
airport’s main car park, use of the lounges both on departure and arrival, and
the handling of banking requirements).

For more
information visit maltairport.com.

Report by
Tom Otley

Easyjet to launch Copenhagen route

Low-cost carrier
Easyjet is filling part of the gap left by the demise of Sterling Airlines, by
launching a route to Copenhagen from London Gatwick.

Easyjet will ply
the route daily from January 15, 2009, which means the carrier will serve both
the north and south London catchments areas, as it already flies three-times
daily to the Danish capital from London Stansted.

Icelandic-owned
Sterling filed for bankruptcy earlier this week (see online news October 29),
taking with it routes from Gatwick to both Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Easyjet will also
launch daily flights from its Gatwick hub to Helsinki from next week (November
3). For more information visit easyjet.com.

Report by Mark
Caswell

Delta and Northwest complete merger

The merger
between US carriers Delta and Northwest has been completed, a move that will
gradually see the Northwest name disappear from our skies.

Northwest is now
a wholly-owned subsidiary of Delta, and under the terms of the merger, the new
combined airline will be headquartered in Atlanta and known as Delta.

Over the next 12-24 months Delta’s brand
will be introduced throughout the Northwest fleet, including its livery, uniforms,
in-flight entertainment and onboard amenities. Flight schedules will also be
merged under the Delta code, and the carriers’ loyalty programmes will be
consolidated. Delta says that there will be “immediate
complimentary upgrade reciprocity for elite members of both airlines’ loyalty
programmes, with airport lounge reciprocity continuing as usual”.

The carrier says that with the acquisition of Northwest, Delta is
now “the world’s largest airline”, serving over 170 million passengers per
year. The completion of the merger comes amid increased consolidation within
the airline industry, with Lufthansa yesterday announcing it was increasing its
share of Bmi to 80 per cent (see online news October 29).

Virgin Atlantic (which itself is 49 per cent owned by Singapore
Airlines) has proposed combining Bmi’s and Virgin’s long and short-haul networks,
while BA is currently pursuing a merger with Iberia, although this has now been
delayed until next year.

For more information visit delta.com, nwa.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Watch sports, will travel

Sports buffs, who still long for the adrenalin rush after the recent Beijing Olympics and the first Singapore Formula 1 Night Race, will have more to look forward to as cities around the region place their faith in athletic events to bring in visitors.

Always the maverick, Singapore worked to get itself assigned as the Southeast Asian port of call for the ongoing 2008/2009 Volvo Ocean Race – one the world’s most grueling competitions – that just kicked off on October 11 in Alicante, Spain. Next year, it also hosts the Asian Youth Games, a prelude to the inaugural 2010 Youth Olympic Games, the first initiative by the International Olympic Committee in many years.

Hongkong steps up to the plate next with the East Asian Games in December 2009, followed by Guangzhou for the 16th Asian Games in November 2010.

Sports tourism and its potential for hefty revenue is not being lost on travel and hospitality providers as the number of sports fans willing to travel to watch their favourite team or player perform increases. A forum at the first ITB Asia travel show in Singapore last month highlighted this fresh source of business.

Catherine McNabb, director, Strategic Clusters 1, Business Travel & MICE Group for the Singapore Tourism Board estimated that about 40 percent of the 100,000 spectators for the F1 night race in Singapore came from overseas. She projected that some 15,000 foreign guests would make up the audience at the future Youth Olympic Games.

Maggie White, general manager, South/Southeast Asia and Gulf Countries, Tourism Australia revealed that the country’s vibrant dining scene was an offshoot of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics when the city had to cater to the  diets of athletes from different countries. Rugby league games and the cricket series have been responsible for spurring domestic as well as international movements with fans staying to view the games from start to finish and some diehards staying as long as three weeks.

According to Grahame Carder, vice-president, marketing, Asia-Pacific, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, today’s emphasis on health and wellness has prompted hotels to invest in facilities such as gym, swimming pools, spas, tennis courts and access to golf courses to enable guests, whether on business or leisure, to keep as fit as the athletes they admire.

Wu Cuiping

Kowloon Shangri-La makes meetings easy

Looking to book a hotel for your next event, but know nothing about the property or unsure about the facilities?

Kowloon Shangri-La in Hongkong answers all these questions and more, with the help of a new fully interactive CD-ROM. Complete with flash animation and pictorial view of the interiors, it also comes with a personal virtual guide who “talks” and “walks” clients through the various venues in the hotel.

Users also learn about the design and size that each space has to offer. The hotel’s magnificent harbour view, one of its big draws, is also highlighted in the promotional tool.

Meetings and conference planners will also get an idea on how to tailor their events with the detailed floor plans, capacity numbers and maps provided.

Having launched a Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) CD-ROM recently, the hotel hopes this user-friendly aid will have the same impact.

The CD entitled, Your Guide to Kowloon Shangri-La, Hongkong, is complimentary and can be obtained from the hotel’s sales and marketing division.

For more details, visit www.shangri-la.com

Peter Rajendran

Bonus deals from Emirates

Good deals to some 25 destinations are available with Emirates, a response to the softening of fuel prices and worsening financial crisis.

Hongkong-based customers have until November 30 to book.

Economy Class fares to 10 Indian cities – Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Kozhikode, Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram – are offered from HK$5,500 (US$709) and travel must be completed by December 10. The minimum stay is three days and maximum is 30 days.

Travelling to European destinations Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf, Paris, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle, Zurich, Athens and Istanbul is also going at affordable prices, starting from HK$5,810 (US$749). And to Dubai, Amman, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Sao Paulo, tickets start from HK$6,070 (US$783) upwards. Travel has to be done by December 15 with a minimum stay of three days and maximum of 30 days.

There is no fuel surcharge and the security charge is inclusive.

For more details, visit www.emirates.com.

Margie T Logarta

Austrian cuts Mumbai service, S7 continues takeover interest

Austrian Airlines
is dropping flights to Mumbai owing to the weakening Indian economy, the crisis
in European financial markets, and “drastic overcapacity between European
airports and the city”.

The five-times weekly flights from Vienna had been reduced from a daily service earlier this year, and the route will
cease entirely on March 1, 2009. The news follows the recent dropping of its
long-haul route to Chicago earlier this year, as well as short-haul flights to
London City, Luxembourg and Riga.

Meanwhile Russian
carrier S7 Airlines (formerly Siberian Airlines) is continuing its interest in
Austrian. A statement released today said the airline has sent letters to government
holding company OIAG, detailing “the principles on which S7 would be interested
in investing in it [Austrian Airlines]”.

S7 is Russia’s
largest domestic airline, and any merger or takeover with Austrian would enable
it to leverage the carrier’s extensive network between Vienna and Eastern
Europe. Lufthansa has also been linked with a takeover of Austrian over the
last few weeks, and it will be interesting to see if this changes following today’s
takeover of Bmi by the German carrier (see online news October 29).

For more
information visit s7.ru, aua.com.

Report by Mark
Caswell