AirAsia grows Singapore hub

AirAsia moves nearer its goal of building Singapore up as its newest
hub, with the addition of four new services between the island-state
and Indonesia.

Return flights Jakarta-Singapore,
Bandung-Singapore, Yogyakarta-Singapore and Bali-Singapore, which
started simultaneously on March 24, were officially launched today in
Singapore with AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes, Indonesian ambassador to
Singapore Mr Wardhana and other AirAsia officials attending.

In
August last year, the low-cost carrier (LCC) kicked off a long-held
dream of Fernandes with a flight mounted by affiliate Indonesia AirAsia
between Pekanbaru in Riau Province and Singapore. Flights to Kuala
Lumpur, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia as well as Bangkok
and Phuket in Thailand followed soon after.

“I’ve been waiting seven years to enter Singapore, and I’ve fought many battles to get to where we are now,” he said.

“Singapore
is very special to AirAsia and we consider it a virtual hub. This
Indonesia-Singapore link forms the final piece in our network’s jigsaw
puzzle.”

He expected AirAsia’s network of 10 routes, connecting
Singapore to grow by three more – in all probability to Medan and
Surabaya in Indonesia and Penang and Langkawi in Malaysia. Frequencies
of some existing routes such as Jakarta-Singapore will be increased.

The
current financial crunch has created tremendous opportunities for his
organsation, admitted Fernandes, a former Warner Music executive, who
once worked for airline maverick Richard Branson. “Demand from business
travellers in Singapore for low-cost flights has gone up.”

According
to him, AirAsia has already responded to the shift of corporates to LCC
use, citing conveniences such as assigned seating and the ability to
change flights without being penalised. Its AirAsia GoCorporate package
features an online and reporting system that provides cost-conscious
companies a way to manage travel expenses.

“They’ll also appreciate our A320 product,” Fernandes said. The carrier is a firm customer of Airbus.

Traffic
between Indonesia and Singapore has traditionally been vibrant, with
Indonesians frequenting the Lion City for leisure activities and
education, and many choosing to make it home. Singaporeans enjoy
spending their holidays in Bali and Yogyakarta (site of the
world-famous Borobudur). Jakarta and Bandung are recognised business
hubs, with Jakarta as the country’s capital and Bandung acknowledged as
a textile manufacturing centre.

Fernandes has long promoted the
idea of an “Asean airline”. He said: “AirAsia hopes to facilitate the
growth of an Asean brand. But we need connectivity. If people and
businesses here in the region aren’t connected, we can never succeed.”

The
round-trip Jakarta-Singapore service is twice daily, and round-trip
Bali-Singapore, Bandung-Singapore and Yogyakarta is each once daily.

For more details, visit www.airasia.com

Margie T Logarta

Marriott unveils Twickenham Stadium property

Marriott has unveiled a 156-room hotel within Twickenham Stadium, including six suites with views of the pitch.

The London Marriott Hotel Twickenham has been integrated into the stadium’s South Stand development, and includes a restaurant, bar and cafe lounge. There are 156 rooms, all featuring flatscreen TVs with cable sports channels, and wired and wifi internet access. The six suites at the property include a separate bedroom, bathroom and lounge area, along with a private balcony in the South Stand.

There are 24 rooms with showers only (Marriott says this is in response to customer preference), and junior and superior suites located in the corners of the hotel. Guests will have access to an adjacent Virgin Active Classic Health Club once it opens this autumn.

The hotel’s restaurant, 22 South Chop House, is named after the 22-metre drop line on a rugby pitch, and features a British-influenced menu with ingredients including Cornish gran fed beef. For meetings the hotel is partnering with the Twickenham Experience Ltd to offer function spaces including the 800-capacity Rose Suite, and there are car parking spaces for up to 2,000 delegates.

The stadium is around six miles from Heathrow airport, with direct train services into London Waterloo. Introductory rates at the hotel are currently starting at £125 room only.

For more information visit londonmarriotttwickenham.co.uk, twickenhamexperience.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Singapore-Jakarta flights ramped up

Travellers from Singapore now have more options to Jakarta with low-cost airline Tiger Airways’ launch of its new service between the two cities and AirAsia’s additional services, which include Jakarta, besides Yogyakarta, Bandung and Bali. (See news, March 30, 2009.)

Tiger Airways kicked off its inaugural flight yesterday with an introductory fare from US$25. The daily flight leaves Singapore at 1635 and makes the turnaround from Jakarta at 1745. 

“For the first time, the airline now serves the capital cities of  six largest economies in the Asean, as well as destinations in China, India and Australia,” said Rosalynn Tay, Tiger Airways managing director.

On its Indonesian routes, the airline also upgraded its Harimau service that is designed to provide value-added perks for business travellers.

Tay said: “From now on, business travellers on our Indonesian services have the choice of priority boarding, a complimentary refreshment on board and free inflight magazine,  as well as hot meals, beverages and other items available for purchase on the direct flight.”

For more information, visit http://www.tigerairways.com/ and http://www.airasia.com/

Gigi Onag

Mercure offers up to 40 percent savings in Europe

From now until the end of the year, travellers flying to Europe on business or leisure can enjoy up to 40 percent off room rates when they make reservations in a Mercure Hotel.

The “Keys To Europe” promotion includes breakfast for two and late 1600 check out. It applies for stays with a minimum of two nights.

It is available in more than 84 Mercure Hotels across 12 countries.

Many of the participating hotels are located to popular European destinations like Paris, London, Berlin and Rome, with more cities to be added.

Discounted room rates for some selected cities are as follows:

•    Budapest €60 (US$79.60)

•    Vienna €84 (US$111.40)

•    Amsterdam €85 (US$112.70)

•    Berlin €89 (US$118.00)

•    Paris €104 (US$137.90)

•    Rome €119 (US$157.80)

•    London GBP 99 (US$ 141.70)

This promotion is available in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal,  the United Kingdom and Switzerland

For more details, visit www.mercure.com or www.accorhotels.com

Sandy Goh

SIA uses new A330-300 on Brisbane route

Singapore Airlines is now flying its new Airbus A330-300 aircraft, using the Singapore-Brisbane route to showcase the innovation and mark the 25th anniversary of operations to the Australian gateway.

The aircraft is configured in a two-class layout, with 30 new Business Class seats and 255 Economy Class seats. Progressively, the product will be introduced between Singapore and other cities in Australia (Adelaide and Perth), followed by Japan (Nagoya and Osaka).

This aircraft type has been especially designed for regional and medium-haul routes, offering enhanced levels of comfort, privacy and functionality. The seat converts to an incline lie-flat bed. The cabin is laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration (distinct from the existing Boeing B777 on these routes, which is in a 2-3-2 layout).

Economy Class features 255 seats, in a 2-4-2 configuration. These are the new generation SIA Economy Class seats, also available on the Singapore Airlines Boeing B777-300ER and A380 aircraft. Ergonomically designed, these provide customers with improved comfort, more personal space and increased legroom.

The A330-300 also offers iPod and iPhone connectivity in every seat, including Economy Class, a first for any airline.

For more information, visit www.singaporeair.com

Margie T Logarta

EXCLUSIVE: half price business class with Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines (SIA) has reacted to fierce price competition on its core routes out of the UK by cutting premium class fares by up to 50 per cent.

The biggest savings
are for business class on flights out of London Heathrow and Manchester to
Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

It means that a return
business class ticket between London and Singapore can be booked through online
agency Netflights for as little as £1,600 while tickets to SIA destinations in
Australia are offered for £1,986 return. 
Business class returns to New Zealand start at £2,200.

These rates are valid on
A380 super jumbo, B777 and B747 flights. They include those flights which
feature SIA’s new and spacious four across (1-2-1) fully lie-flat seating.

First class offers are
not as attractive. On SIA’s website singaporeair.com there is a seat sale rate
of £5,753  between London and Singapore or
£6,615 between London and Sydney.  And if
you request an A380 flight with “Suite” accommodation then the price will be
slightly higher because the airline says this product is “something special.”

These seat sale offers
are valid for travel between April 4 and June 30 but note that availability is limited
over the peak Easter travel period. 
Advance booking is required and there are penalties should you wish to
change or cancel your ticket.

SIA has been forced to
make these reductions because it is facing an unprecedented level of service
and price competition both to its home base and beyond.  

Between the UK,
Singapore and Australasia the carrier is up against carriers like Qantas and
Emirates who also fly A380s, offer frequent non-stop flights, provide very good
premium products and yet, until now, have undercut SIA on price.

But that’s not all.  Singapore, and the key markets served from the
City State, are either in or close to recession. This has impacted on SIA’s
passenger carryings.  Last month
(February) SIA carried 20 per cent fewer passengers than in the same month last
year.

These seat sale offers
can be booked through singaporeair.com and selected travel agents such as
Trailfinders and Netflights.com   Prices
vary slightly depending on the agent’s mark-up.

Note that this seat sale offer expires at close of business today (April 1).

Report by Alex
McWhirter

Hyatt offers 20 percent savings

Hyatt Hotels & Resorts is offering a 20 percent-discount on its daily rate at its Park Hyatt, Andaz, Grand Hyatt and Hyatt Regency properties worldwide.

The offer is valid for a limited time. Travellers can make their reservations online or by contacting their travel agent.

For Hyatt hotels in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean, booking must be made by April 8 for stays through June 30.

For Hyatt hotels in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, as well as Park Hyatt and Andaz hotels around the world, travellers must book at least seven days before arrival. The offer is valid on stays through May 3.

For more details, visit www.hyatt.com/hyatt/specials/offers.jsp

Sandy Goh

Australia and the Philippines expand air services

Australia and the Philippines have signed a new air services agreement, increasing by 60 percent the number of seats on weekly flights between the two countries.

News reports say carriers from both countries can now offer up to 4,000 seats each way per week between Australian cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, and the Philippine cities of Manila and Clark. This capacity upgrade may be further increased to 6,000 per week, depending on demand.

The old limit was 2,500 seats per week.

Meanwhile, both countries’ carriers are also allowed to operate unlimited services to regional airports.

More than 300,000 travellers flew between Australia and the Philippines in 2008, making Australia one of the top five sources of tourists in the Philippines.

Joshua Tan

Delays in Australian airports expected after strike

Qantas baggage handlers, who went on a four-hour strike Monday morning, are now back to work, but it may take until this evening to untangle the delays caused by the disruption of normal operations in five Australian airports.

Major delays were experienced in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide airports as the baggage handlers walked off the job in protest over Qantas’ decision to outsource jobs to a cheaper company.

Both domestic and international passengers were forced to leave the affected airports without their bags upon arrival this morning, while bags at the check-in counters were piled high at the height of the strike.

One of the worst hit airports was Brisbane Airport, where the strike caused domestic flights to be at a near standstill.

At Sydney’s international terminal, 300 workers blocked a road leading to its entrance. The blockage has been removed.

A spokeswoman for Brisbane Airport Corporation said: “We’re advising passengers who were intending to travel today through the airport to check with their airlines with the timing of their scheduled flights – and if they are coming to the airport please be patient.”

Alex Gallacher, spokesman of Australia’s Transport Workers Union, defended the workers’ actions.

“Workers have had enough. They work hard. They go to work in all weather, seven days a week, rain, hail or shine. But if you smack them in the ear and say, ‘Look, righto, there’s someone that’s A$2 (US$1.39) an hour cheaper than you over there, and they’ve got your job, they’re going to get very, very angry. And that’s what’s happening here,” he said.

Joshua Tan

Heathrow launches Travel Product Awards

Travellers can now vote for their favourite travel product in the inaugural Heathrow Travel Product Awards. Categories include “Best business technological gadget of the year” and “Britain’s best souvenir”.

There are a total of 12 categories, all of which will be voted for by the public online, with the winners being announced in early May. Among the awards that will be presented this year are for best travel read (fiction and non-fiction), most innovative luggage, best holiday fragrance (men and women), and “my travel treat”, for the best luxury travel purchases.

Nominations for the best business technological gadget include the Toshiba NB100, the Bose QuietComfort 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones, the Blackberry 8900 Javelin, and the 13″ VIAO Business Laptop. Business Traveller magazine regularly reviews the latest technology for the corporate traveller – for more information visit businesstraveller.com/tags/technology.

For more information on the awards and to make your vote count, visit heathrowtravelproduct.com.