Ellington hotel in Leeds to reopen

The 35-room Ellington in Leeds, which was managed by Pantin Hotels, originally opened in September 2008, but after only five months of business went into administration after owner City Retreats Group went bust.

In March 2009 the Ellington went up for sale at £3 million. One year on, UK hotel operator Bespoke Hotels is relaunching the property, with doors opening to the public in February. (Reports suggest that the hotel was sold to West Register Realisations of Edinburgh in the summer.)

This is good news for business travellers, as the hotel is in a good location, close to the train station and in the heart of Leed’s financial district.

Judging by information and photos on bespokehotels.com, the hotel will not have changed much since it opened under Pantin Hotels, so guests can expect the same art deco-style interiors, lots of crushed velvet, and its trademark jazz theme. (The property is named after composer, pianist and big band leader Duke Ellington.)

There will again be free wired and wifi access throughout, and flatscreen TVs in the bedrooms. Guests will also be able to borrow iPods with pre-downloaded classic, jazz, rock/pop and chill-out music, and games consoles such as Wii and Xbox 360.

As well as two meeting rooms there is a basement restaurant, although details of this are yet to be revealed. (It was previously overseen by Albert Roux.)

For a full review of the Ellington in its previous incarnation, click here.

Visit bespokehotels.com for more information.

Story by Jenny Southan

Body scanners in UK airports being “assessed urgently”

In a bid to step up security after a failed attempt to blow up a Delta/Northwest Airlines plane bound for Detroit from Amsterdam on Christmas Day, Schiphol airport is installing X-ray-like scanners for use on passengers travelling to the US.

Reports suggest that Schiphol already had 15 of the machines, but concerns over privacy (the scans reveal a detailed outline of the human body) had delayed their roll-out. Now, Dutch interior minister, Guusje Ter Horst, said the machines will be in place within a few weeks, and in the mean time, full-body searches on all passengers travelling to the US will take place.

The news comes a couple of months after Manchester airport began trialling similar scanners in October, with the Department for Transport (DfT) set to decide on whether to deploy them permanently towards the end of 2010 when the trial comes to an end. London Heathrow tested out the technology between 2004 and 2008 at Terminal 4 in conjunction with the DfT and BAA, but a decision is still being awaited from the DfT as to if and when it will be fully introduced.

A spokesperson for the DfT says: “Body scanners are being assessed urgently as part of a package of measures to respond to the latest incident. Trials [of body scanners] have already taken place and these are being assessed urgently as part of an immediate review of airport security. The Secretary of State will make a further statement on additional measures shortly. The UK already has one of the strictest aviation security regimes in the world, operating above the current baseline set by the European Union. We are looking at all options for strengthening that further, and we will not allow the safety of our passengers to be compromised.”

So what is the reaction from airport operator BAA? A spokesperson says: “The introduction of full body scanners would require a change in European legislation. The European Commission is meeting member states next week, and we will watch the outcome of those discussions closely and respond accordingly.”

So why is Schiphol introducing them even though there is no European legislation to govern them? BAA says: “We understand that they were on trial there and so it’s easier for them to roll it out because they already had the trial on-going.”

Reports in The Telegraph claim that there are four body scanner machines in storage at Heathrow airport since the trials a few years ago, but the authorities have so far denied any knowledge of this. When questioned, BAA said: “That’s a very good question. I am afraid I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know where The Telegraph got its information from.”

The DfT said: “I don’t know anything about machines in storage at Heathrow – there was a trial there a few years ago so they might be left over from that, but what state they are in, how up to date they are, how suitable they are, whether they meet up to current standards is another question. The only one we are aware of is the one on trial at Manchester.”

So if the DfT does decide to install the scanners across UK airports, how long would it take? A spokesperson for the DfT says: “That depends on a lot of things… how quickly the manufacturers can produce them, how long it takes to train people, how long it takes to install them. I am not sure we would want to be drawn on a possible time line.”

That said, judging by trails at Manchester airport, if it came to it, staff would not find it difficult to learn how to operate the scanners. Russell Craig, group head of external communications, says: “It takes about two and a half weeks to train staff to use the technology. They know how to use X-ray machines so it’s just about learning how to interpret the different images.”

So what is the latest with the Rapiscan body scanner trials at Manchester airport? Russell Craigg: “We started putting passengers through the trial on November 6 – so far about 500 people have gone through. Passengers go through security in Terminal 2, where we have one machine, then if the trial is operating at that time they will be stopped by a market researcher who asks if you would like to participate and explains what the machine is. Before Christmas, and before the incident in Detroit, acceptance rates were about 75 per cent, now they are 92 per cent, since the researchers were bought back on December 29. We have also noticed that before Christmas, we were mainly being asked about privacy, now the main question everyone is asking is ‘could it have detected the Detroit device?’ Not only has the incident heightened public awareness but it has heightened public acceptability.”

So could the scanners have stopped the Christmas attack? Craig says: “We know a lot about that device from what’s come out in the media, but we don’t know everything, so no one would want to say ‘it couldn’t happen here’. But … the image that comes back is detailed enough to pick up a chain around your neck or a pen in your pocket – so draw your own conclusions from that.”

There are about 20 airports in the US, including LA and New York JFK, that are currently equipped with “millimetre wave scanners” or “backscatter, low-level X-ray machines”, but at the moment passengers can choose whether or not to use them. So the UK is actually quite far behind in terms of not only accepting the technology, but actually putting it into place.”

Visit dft.gov.uk, baa.com, schiphol.nl, manchesterairport.co.uk for more information.

Report by Jenny Southan

Asia-Pacific reports modest air passenger recovery

Asia -Pacific has seen a 5.1 percent increase year-on-year for air travel during November 2009, reflecting the recovery of most Asian economies, according to aviation industry data.

However, the figures released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) show strong regional disparities as key regions such as Europe and North America saw a continued slide in demand.

According to IATA, Asian traffic growth is driven most directly by economic recovery, while Middle Eastern growth of 16.5 percent “can also be related to the strength of Asia and the ability of Middle East carriers to facilitate connection traffic to the region through Middle Eastern hubs”.

However, both European and North American carriers experienced a 3 percent drop in November passenger traffic.

IATA noted that  European carriers have cut capacity by 3.9 percent and North American carriers by 6.7 percent.

Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s director general and CEO, said: “Demand continues to improve, but we still have a lot of ground to recover. We cannot anticipate any significant improvement in yields in the coming months. So, conserving cash, controlling costs and carefully matching capacity to demand remain at the keys to survival.”

www.iata.org

Kenny Coyle

Macau extends MICE stimulus programme

Business travellers, particularly event planners organising meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE), will continue to enjoy benefits and subsidies for choosing Macau as the site of their offsite event.

The “Strategic MICE Market Stimulus Programme” spearheaded by the Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO), which ended December 23 after a seven-month run, has been granted a 90-day extension from December 31, 2009 to March 31, 2010.

An additional budget of MOP$21.83 million (US$2.68 million)  has been allocated to support the MICE stimulus programme.

To date, a total of 98 events has enjoyed benefits and subsidies amounting to MOP$32.6 million (US$4 million). Of these, 31 were meetings and conventions, 19 were exhibitions and 26 were incentive trips. This first phase of the programme also included 22 events that are yet to be held and are set between 2010 and 2012.

The MICE stimulus programme is aimed at attracting business travel into the territory. It is part of the multi-pronged “Plan to Support Macau Tourism Industry”, which has been extended for another three months.

All programmes under the plan – which include support for Macau’s leisure tourism and aviation industry – have been extended until March 31, 2010.

For more information, click here to visit the MGTO website.

Gigi Onag

Ryanair suspends Italian domestic flights

From January 23, budget airline Ryanair is to suspend flights to and from airports within Italy, after laws on ID are relaxed.

In November, Italian civil aviation authority ENAC introduced national legislation allowing passengers to travel domestically with forms of identification other than passports, such as Italian AT/BT cards, employment IDs and Italian fishing or hunting licences.

This decision goes against Ryanair’s travel documentation policy that states: “Passengers should carry a valid passport (and visa if applicable) or government issued national identification card on all journeys. Ryanair does NOT accept driver licence, residence cards, family books, seaman books, ministerial ID’s, military ID cards, Italian AT/BT cards etc.”

Given that the ENAC’s new law will mean that Ryanair’s handling staff, who are responsible for checking ID at the gate, may be imprisoned if they refuse travel to passengers flying with these other forms of ID, the airline has decided to temporarily suspend flights between its ten Italian airports.

These are: Alghero, Bari, Bologna, Brindisi, Cagliari in Sardinia, Milan (Bergamo), Pescara, Pisa, Rome (Ciampino), and Trapani in Sicily.  

Ryanair states that the reason it has a strict travel ID policy in place is that it requires all passengers to check-in online, “so it is imperative for the safety and security of all Ryanair flights that all Ryanair passengers agree at the time of booking that they will produce either a passport or an EU/EEA national ID card at the boarding gate prior to the boarding of their flight”.

Ryanair adds that its Italian domestic flights will only be restored if it “can be certain that the safety and security of its operations will not be undermined by ENAC’s unlawful interference”.

In a statement, Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary said: “We sincerely regret any inconvenience that this measure will cause to our Italian domestic passengers. However, it is entirely wrong of ENAC to introduce lower safety/security measures on Italian domestic flights than the safety and security measures which already operate successfully on all Ryanair’s intra-EU flights and Ryanair’s domestic flights in every other EU country. Since these ID requirements are agreed by all passengers, there is no justification for ENAC to interfere in Ryanair’s security process.

“Ryanair’s passport/ID card policy has been approved by every other EU country, including ENAC itself some four years ago.

“ENAC’s unlawful insistence that Ryanair should accept other (less secure) forms of ID on Italian domestic flights, which our crews and our handling agents may be unfamiliar with, reduces safety and security in a manner which is unacceptable to Ryanair, our crews and passengers.

“Ryanair regrets this latest attempt by ENAC to unlawfully interfere in the manner in which Ryanair operates its flights, or to alter agreements which are freely entered into between passengers and Ryanair at the time of booking.

“We will be appealing this ENAC Ordinanza in the Consiglio di Stato and remain hopeful that the Consiglio di Stato will dismiss this unlawful attempt by ENAC to interfere in Ryanair’s operations and to reduce the level of safety and security enjoyed by all Ryanair passengers and flights across Italy.”

Visit ryanair.com

Report by Jenny Southan

World’s tallest hotel opens in Dubai… and it’s dry

The 72-storey Rose Rayhaan by Rotana in Dubai is not only the tallest hotel in the world, it is the latest addition to Rotana’s alcohol-free brand.

The Abu Dhabi-based hotel chain opened the 333-meter tall Rose Rayhaan to the public on December 23. It has more than 480 rooms, suites and penthouses, all with their own kitchenettes and high-speed internet, plus three restaurants, eight meeting rooms (for up to 160 delegates), a fitness centre, sauna and steam rooms, and an outdoor swimming pool.

It’s a tough time to open a hotel in Dubai, and the challenge may be increased by the fact that the hotel is dry – no alcohol is served in its restaurants.

The hotel is on Sheikh Zayed Road close to the DIFC metro station, the Dubai International Financial Centre and World Trade Centre. Dubai International airport is 15km away, and Dubai Media City and Internet City are 7km away.

Readers should note that Business Traveller has previously reported on the Park Hyatt Shanghai, which has a reception on the 87th floor, and the new Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong, which will have a lobby on the 102nd floor when it opens in the spring, but both of these properties occupy only a few floors of these buildings, while the Rose Rayhaan by Rotana takes up the whole building, making it the tallest hotel in the world, rather than the highest.

Rotana manages 68 properties throughout the Middle East including Rotana Hotels and Resorts, Centro Hotels by Rotana, Rayhaan Hotels and Resorts by Rotana, and Arjaan Hotel Apartments by Rotana.

Visit rotana.com for more information.

Report by Tom Otley

 

Gatwick Express to be downgraded to commuter service?

As highlighted by the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) earlier in December, Gatwick Express is once more under threat. The ex-National Express service, which ceased to be a standalone operation in 2008, is now run by Southern (click here for online news story published August 11, 2009), and the current operation is thanks to a compromise reached in 2008.

As a result of objections from the aviation industry and various consumer bodies over proposals to serve the airport with commuter trains, the Department for Transport intervened. As a result, Gatwick Express trains ran at their existing 15-minute frequency until the end of 2008, but since then have had six trains at peak times extending their route onwards between Gatwick airport to Brighton and vice versa. These services also call at Haywards Heath. (Click here for online news story published April 12, 2007.)

Now, BAR UK, the industry association that promotes the business interests of scheduled airlines with a UK operation or representation, says that the service is once more under threat.

Chief executive Mike Carrivick says that the proposals are to “get rid of the Gatwick Express stock itself, bring in more of the commuter stock, and split that commuter stock up during non-peak times so a ten-coach train would be five”.

He adds: “There is a great risk that the Gatwick Express will be downgraded to a commuter service. From our point of view that hits visitors to the UK, particularly people who aren’t familiar with the UK or London, and who seek a fast and reliable non-stop service for both comfort and security.”

Carrivick also says that extra stops means that visitors run the risk of getting off at the wrong station or having their luggage stolen, but more importantly, the service is essential to Gatwick since the airport is “so poorly connected to London by road”.

He says: “We think rail and airport connectivity should be improved, not downgraded, and not just at Gatwick but at all airports. The last thing we want to do is put more people on the roads.”

Carrivick warns that other advantages, such as the onboard sales facility allowing passengers to buy a ticket with a credit card on the train itself will be lost, as may be the “ungated” nature of the service at Gatwick and Victoria. It is also unlikely that multilingual announcements would continue.

“Our view is that this is being done to suit the operator rather than the market,” says Carrivick. “It is charging [passengers] a lot more on that line, the rolling stock is in place, what’s the problem keeping in place?”

Despite repeated attempts by Business Traveller to interview a spokesperson, the operator of Gatwick Express, Southern, was not able to comment on any aspect of this story.

Visit southernrailway.com, gatwickexpress.com for more information.

Report by Tom Otley

Qatar Airways announces Copenhagen and Barcelona

Qatar Airways will be flying to Copenhagen and Barcelona from March 2010.

At the start of the summer schedule, the airline will be expanding its presence in Scandinavia with four weekly flights from Doha to the Danish capital, as well as increasing its flights to the Swedish capital of Stockholm to daily (from five a week currently using an A319).

Following news in July that its services to Madrid were increasing from four flights a week to daily, Qatar Airways will be adding Barcelona, its second Spanish city, to its roster, with flights departing daily.

The news comes just after Qatar announced plans to launch flights to Tokyo, Bangalore in southern India and the Turkish capital of Ankara over an eight-week period starting in February. (See online news December 12, 2009.) The airline also plans to launch flights to Sydney, its second Australian destination after Melbourne, during 2010.

Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker said: “The addition of the European cities of Copenhagen and Barcelona, along with Ankara, follows the airline’s strategy to expand its operations to diverse cities from the Gulf.” 

www.qatarairways.com 

report by Jenny Southan

Cabbing in Shanghai becomes easier

Good news for those taking taxis in Shanghai.

A new device allows commuters to choose their destination on the touch screen and then “talks” to the driver.

The interactive map provides a listing of tourist attractions, shopping areas, hotels, restaurants and government offices.

The names of places and their addresses will appear on the screen in English and Chinese as well as telephone numbers. The passenger can navigate left, right, up and down on the map to locate their destination, and a “zoom in” tool is available as well.

The device will be installed in more than 10,000 taxis, a boon for non-Chinese speakers who rely on this means of public transport.

The move comes months before the Expo is due to take place from May to October next year, when 70 million visitors are expected in the city.

Julian Tan

SPG eliminates peak season award rates for 2010

SPG (Starwood Preferred Guests) has given its frequent guests a reason to smile for the next year by suspending its peak season Starpoints pricing in 2010.

This applies to SPG’s high-end hotel categories 5, 6 and 7.

“We’ll continue to stay focused on what matters to you in 2010. In fact, we’re pleased to announce that peak season Starpoints® pricing will be eliminated again for next year. This is the first of many efforts to celebrate the start of a new decade,” said Frits van Paasschen, president and CEO of Starwood Hotels and Chis Holdren, SPG senior vice-president in an email sent recently to SPG member.

Starwood Hotels at the high-end categories of 5, 6, and 7 has had peak season rates for several years and suspended the peak season surcharge for 2009.

Now, SPG members have another year with award redemption rates set at one level for high-category SPG Starwood Hotels.

SPG’s No Peak Season Award Night Rates in 2010 are as follows:

  • Category 5 Hotel     12,000  points        (Peak Season 16,000)      
  • Category 6 Hotel     20,000  points        (Peak Season 25,000)           
  • Category 7 Hotel     30,000   points       (Peak Season 35,000)    

This elimination of peak season rates is a move by Starwood Preferred Guest to maintain the value of points in its hotel loyalty programme.

For more information of SPG,  visit www.spg.com

Gigi Onag