The big picture: BA and Iberia confirm merger date

At a joint press conference between BA’s CEO Willie Walsh and Iberia’s chairman Antonio Vazquez, the carriers announced that January 24 next year will signal the official merger of the two airlines

The press conference follows yesterday’s approval of the merger by the shareholders of both airlines (see online news November 29). On January 24 shares in the new International Airlines Group (IAG, the holding company for the merged carriers) will begin trading.

The merged entity will become the third largest airline group in Europe, and the sixth largest in the world by revenue. The two carriers will serve a total of 204 destinations worldwide, operating 406 aircraft.

Willie Walsh will become CEO of IAG, while Antonio Vazquez will assume the position of chairman.

Visit ba.com, iberia.com.

Galaxy Macau gears up for an early 2011 opening

Galaxy Macau, the latest integrated resort to enhance the territory’s fast developing Cotai Strip, will open early next year, aiming to deliver an authentic Asian service style in an effort to distinguish itself in a highly competitive hospitality scene.

The focus on providing an Asian-centric experience is targeted at the huge mainland China market. For the first 10 months of 2010, this particular sector made up 97 percent of Macau’s regional visitors, numbering approximately 11 million between January and October.

“We believe Galaxy Macau will become a hugely attractive proposition for visitors from Beijing and across mainland China,” said Raypmond Yap, senior vice-president for international premium market development at the Galaxy Entertainment Group. “Besides having more disposable income, many Chinese are looking for new, luxurious experiences that are closer to home to maximise their holiday time. Being only a few hours from Beijing, we are in an excellent position to capitalise on these trends.”

Yap is part of the contingent that is currently on a seven-city road show to promote the property. The itinerary includes Tokyo, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Taipei.

The 550,000sqm complex is being built at an estimated cost of RMB12.8 billion (US$1.92 billion). It will add more than 2,200 rooms to Cotai Strip’s increasing inventory with the 1,500-room Galaxy Hotel, the 500-room Okura Hotel and the Banyan Tree Macau, which will offer 246 suites and 10 floating villas.

The resort will also expand the strip’s dining and shopping choices with 50 F&B outlets and more than 30 shops. One unique feature of Galaxy Macau will be the resort deck with a white-sand beach and what it claims as the world’s largest rooftop wave pool.

For more information, visit http://galaxymacau.com

Gigi Onag

Worldhotels announces first branded properties

Worldhotels has named the first properties to sign up to its full branding proposition.

The company is inviting its portfolio of 450 four- and five-star independent properties and smaller hotel groups to rebrand as a Worldhotel.

Two German properties will become fully fledged Worldhotels from January 2011 – the Golden Tulip Hamburg Aviation will be renamed the Worldhotel the Rilano Hamburg, and Tulip Hotel Munich City (pictured below) will become the Worldhotel the Rilano Munich.

The Worldhotel Saltanat Almaty in Kazakhstan, scheduled to open in January, will be the first new-build property under the brand. Hotels in Frankfurt and Vienna are to follow.

Robert Hornman, Worldhotels’ managing director, said the move would help its member properties to compete against the major chains.

“If you are surrounded by big brands it’s not easy to compete,” he said. “We are offering a non-cookie cutter approach – we can give them stronger visibility but at the same time allow them to keep their own character.” Hornman said branding at the properties would be subtle, with signage on the roof and in public areas.

Hornman estimated that 5 per cent of existing hotels in the portfolio would take up the proposition to start with, and that 20 to 30 new properties would be added in the next 18 months. It aims to have 50 signed up by 2013.

Worldhotels is 40 years old this year and has properties in 65 countries, totalling more than 110,000 rooms. Members include the Royal Garden and the Washington Mayfair in London, and the Mint (formerly City Inn – see online news November 29) and Buddha Bar hotel chains.

It has partner agreements with 18 airline frequent flyer programmes, the most recent to be announced being Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club in October.

Visit worldhotels.com for more information.

Report by Michelle Mannion

Iceland Express to offer iPads on London flights

The carrier will offer passengers pre-loaded Apple iPads on services between London and New York, at a charge of £9 per flight.

Initially there will be 25 iPads available for rental on Iceland Express flights from London Gatwick to New York Newark (via Reykjavik), with plans to roll out the service to the rest of the fleet early next year.

The devices will be pre-loaded with films, TV shows, music, magazines, books and games, and the carrier says that it plans to introduce wifi access “at a later date”. The airline currently uses the Bluebox lite entertainment system onboard its European flights.

According to Iceland Express the iPad has a battery life of ten hours – the duration of the carrier’s service between London and New York is just over 11 hours, although this includes the connection in Reykjavik.

Iceland Express recently announced it will offer flights to Chicago and Boston next year (see online news August 25), and will also add links to Edinburgh, Dublin and Belfast in 2011 (see online news November 23).

For more information visit icelandexpress.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Snow update: Edinburgh airport reopens; London City experiencing delays

Snowfall in Scotland and England is causing disruption to several UK airports today, with Edinburgh having reopened after earlier closures, and London airports experiencing delays and cancellations.

A statement on the Edinburgh airport website (posted at 1200) says:

“After heavy snow fall, Edinburgh Airport is now open. Passengers are advised to contact their airline before travelling to the airport.”

Aberdeen airport says that “Despite the snow, the airport is currently open for business”.

Birmingham says it is not experiencing any disruption due to the snowfall, and Manchester airport remains open, with the following advice posted at 0700:

“Manchester Airport is operating normally this morning despite a light snow fall overnight.

“With forecasts showing minor snow flurries during today, the airport will continue to use Runway 1 to ensure that normal operations continue throughout today (Tuesday 30 November 2010).

“Three flights have been cancelled this morning to Copenhagen and Frankfurt because of heavy snow at those airports.

“Three flights bound for Leeds Bradford Airport were diverted to Manchester Airport overnight.

“Passengers travelling from Manchester Airport today are advised to come to the airport as planned. Anyone concerned about their travel plans will find live flight schedules available at www.manchesterairport.co.uk or via twitter.com/manairport.”

Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports are operating normally at present, and London City says that “Flights have started to operate although they are still subject to delays cancellations. Passengers should contact their airline for further information”.

Most UK airports now also update passengers via Twitter – for a list of airport Twitter pages click here.

Reservations open for Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Diners eager to experience Heston Blumenthal’s first London restaurant can start reserving tables from tomorrow, ahead of an opening date of the end of January.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, located within the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, had been due to open in late 2010, but the launch date has now been set for January 31, 2011, with reservations open from 9am on December 1.

Mandarin Oriental says that “As we anticipate telephone lines to be extremely busy, we highly recommend visiting dinnerbyheston.com for availability and online reservations”.

The restaurant will be headed up by Ashley Palmer-Watts, group executive chef at Blumenthal’s Fat Duck for eleven years, and will feature “simple modern dishes, inspired by our historic gastronomic past and celebrating the very best of British produce”. 

For more information on Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, see online news August 17, or visit dinnerbyheston.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

SilkAir installs an interactive seat allocation system

SilkAir, the regional wing of Singapore Airlines, has installed an interactive pre-reserve seat (IPRS) system to streamline flight booking procedures by providing passengers immediate seat selection confirmation.

The system, provided by Abacus International, allows travel agents and corporate users to bypass making a call to the airline’s reservation office to get seat confirmation.

“With the IPRS system, our customers now, through their travel agents, have the option to select their preferred seats, giving them more control over their travel experience and hopefully making their flight a more comfortable one,” said Alvin Seah, vice-president for Commercial at SilkAir.

The IPRS system instantly transmits a seating request to the airline at the time of booking, allowing the carrier to immediately confirm the seat’s availability or to suggest an alternative if the selected seat is already taken. The system also provides for priority seating to frequent flyers.

“We are continuously improving our product offerings for our customers and constantly seeking ways to add value to the travel experience,” Seah added as another benefit of the new system is to reduce the processing time during airport check in.

For more details, visit www.silkair.com and www.abacus.com.sg

Erica Rae Chong

Pan Pacific Perth to open in January

Pan Pacific Perth, opening in January 2011, rounds up the first batch of properties earmarked for Australia by the chain. Recently, it launched the Parkroyal Darling Harbour Sydney and Parkroyal Parramatta, both centrally located in their areas.

Also near main retail, dining and entertainment area, the new 486-room Perth property looks out to the Swan River and features a variety of conference and meeting facilities.

To capitalise on the coming holidays, the chain has again rolled out its Super Saver promotion, promising 20 percent off best available rates for stays in its hotels in Asia and North America. This is valid until February 28 and guarantees a late check-out until 3pm.

For more details, visit www.panpacific.com

Margie T Logarta

The Savoy Grill reopens

The Savoy Grill has reopened this lunchtime as a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, under Chef Patron Simon Gillies and head chef Andy Cook, with Gordon Ramsay meeting and greeting guests for the opening lunch.

Business Traveller was there for a light (two-course lunch) with a table for two, quite close to the door, but with an excellent view of the room. Reassuringly no celebrities were present, and despite a few hiccups from the kitchen, including a slightly delayed main course, the service, ambience and food was excellent under restaurant manager David Carter.

The new design certainly is an evolution rather than a revolution with the Russell Sage Studio designers preserving much of the room’s original table plan. Probably the most noticeable design features are the elegant chandeliers and the panelling of (real) gold leaf backed tortoise shell Lucite.

On entrance the tables immediately by the right hand wall have been removed and there is a small bar, but the layout of the room will be immediately recognisable to anyone who dined at the Grill a few years ago under fellow Gordon Ramsay protégé (though now they’ve fallen out) Marcus Wareing.

The restaurant dates back to 1889 and has had everyone from Sir Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde to Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe as diners.

The menu, which can be viewed here, certainly seemed well chosen, with plenty of hale and hearty options to fight the current chill, and a pricing which surely reflects an awareness not only of the current economic climate, but the potential media backlash for overpriced produce. Starters ranged from £6.50-£16.50 (although you could have Oscietra caviar with blinis and crème fraîche for £85 (30g) or £140 (50g).

Upstairs after lunch we were given a quick tour of the former Banquette restaurant which is now the private dining room, named D’Oyly Carte in recognition of the view across the famous courtyard complete with swan fountain to the art deco Savoy Theatre, built by Richard D’Oyly Carte to showcase Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

Although tens of millions has been spent on the restoration of the hotel, it’s good to see they have kept the bullet hole in the window upstairs, which I have variously been told was as a result of a failed robbery, or dating from some war time incident.

Visit fairmont.com/savoy.

Tom Otley


Lufthansa set to revamp European product

At a time when many European airlines are cutting back on short-haul catering, Lufthansa is taking a different tack.

According to reports on Bloomberg, the German national airline is  preparing to unveil a new European product. An official announcement is likely to be made on December 15.

Catering will be upgraded and simplified into four bands for business and five bands for economy class. As at present, each band will be determined by flight length. 

There will be more substantial offerings on all Lufthansa’s European routes compared with the situation today where the London-Frankfurt passenger in economy class receives just a roll and a drink.

It is believed that it is the first time in 15 years that Lufthansa has decided to offer more substantial catering on short flights.

Lufthansa will adopt new and slimmer seating which will allow it to add almost 2,000 more seats to its 200-strong narrow-bodied fleet operating within Europe. This will enable the carrier to earn more cash when flights are full.

The slimback seats which Lufthansa are installing are the same as those now being fitted by partner carrier Austrian Airlines (see online news November 25). They allow Lufthansa to add up to two extra rows per plane (enabling Lufthansa to carry an extra six to 12 extra passengers per flight) while boosting legroom by up to four inches.

It means that an A319 will go from 132 to 138 seats with the A320 moving from 156 to 168 seats and the A321 from 190 to 200 seats. A B737-500 will go from 111 to 120 seats while a B737-300 moves from 127 to 140 seats.

It is understood that one B737 will be retrofitted with the new seating prior to the official announcement.

The remainder of the fleet will follow and the idea is for Lufthansa to have all the planes retrofitted by the end of 2011.

There are some downsides. It is unclear whether the new seating will be as comfortable. And it is believed that wardrobes are being removed from the cabins to free up space while the larger A321s will lose one toilet. 

Lufthansa’s short-haul network handles many passengers who connect to and from destinations farther afield. The loss of the wardrobes could mean a problem when staff need to find additional stowage space for hand luggage, winter coats and so on.

Readers must note that the new product applies to Lufthansa’s mainline fleet. We await confirmation about the catering offer for Lufthansa’s regional partners who operate less busy or niche routes which are flown by commuter-type planes.

An example here would be the Lufthansa services into London City from Frankfurt or Munich which are operated by Cityline. It may be that these smaller aircraft do not have the space for extra seats to be added.

Business Traveller will publish more details of the new short-haul product as and when available.

For more information visit lufthansa.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter