Preview: Corinthia Hotel London

Business Traveller has had a preview look at the Corinthia Hotel London, which is to open on April 16 following a £300 million remodel of a listed Victorian building, formerly the Metropole.

The five-star deluxe property, the Malta-based brand’s first in London, is located on Whitehall Place, close to Embankment tube station and enjoying an enviable position overlooking the city and river.

Built in 1885, the triangular-shaped property was originally a hotel, the Metropole, and then MOD offices, and many of the original features have been restored.

The lobby lounge boasts one of the hotel’s most spectacular features – a domed atrium that floods the area with natural light, from which a huge chandelier made from 1,001 Baccarat crystal baubles hangs. The lounge will serve a light menu and afternoon tea, and is encircled on one side with double-height glass doors that open on to a maple-tree lined courtyard.

The original Metropole hotel housed 600 rooms, but the building has now been redesigned to accommodate 294 rooms on seven floors, including 43 suites. The guestrooms range from 30 sqm to 470 sqm for the Royal Suite and are furnished in a soft, neutral palette, with a choice of king, queen or twin beds.

Key features include free wifi, a media hub with international sockets, a minibar stocked with Harrods products (Harrods’ first-ever hotel shop can be found in the lobby), a safe, Nespresso machine and a Loewe 32-inch flatscreen TV. iPods can also be synched up with the TV via the media hub.

Half the rooms have a walk-in wardrobe and there is a choice of a city view or a Juliet balcony overlooking the inner courtyard. Bathrooms are finished in Italian marble from Carrara and feature a rainshower and separate tub. All but the two entry-level room tiers have Espa bath products and TVs built into the baths.

The upper two floors house the hotel’s most opulent rooms – seven signature suites named after famous figures connected to the area, such as Sir Winston Churchill, Frederick Simms and Lady Hamilton. Each is laid out across two floors, mezzanine-style, with sweeping staircases and terraces. The Royal suite, with a prime position in the building’s turret, offers panoramic views of the river, Westminster and St Paul’s Cathedral.

There are several function rooms on the ground floor including the Ballroom, which has its own entrance off Whitehall Place. The largest of the function rooms, it can accommodate 180 for a sit-down meal or up to 400 for a drinks reception. It is the hotel’s most dramatic public space, with high ceilings, huge columns and original cornicing.

There are two restaurants, the Northall serving British cuisine, and the Massimo restaurant and oyster bar. Head chef Garry Hollihead serves locally sourced produce at the Northall, which is split up into a bar, restaurant and private dining area. It leads through to a huge breakfast room and mezzanine where there are a further six private meeting rooms.

The second restaurant is headed up by Italian chef Massimo Riccoli and will specialise in fish, a theme that has infiltrated David Collins’ room design, which features a mosaic floor, white Italian marble and dark oak.

Also designed by Collins is the Bassoon bar, featuring cubist paintings hung on the shagreen and mirror-panelled wall, and a piano built into the glossy black bar.

The hotel will also have a four-floor, 3,300 sqm Espa spa, due to open at the end of May. It will have its own cafe, a nine-metre pool, an all-glass sauna, 17 treatment rooms and a Daniel Galvin hair salon.

Rates start from £400 a night for an entry level room, up to £15,000 a night for the Royal suite.

Corinthia also has properties in St Petersburg, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Malta.

The hotel is one of a raft of properties opening or being refurbished in London ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games. W Hotels opened its first London property in Leicester Square on February 14, while the Four Seasons London at Park Lane reopened in January after a two-year refurbishment. The Savoy unveiled its £220 million revamp late last year, and St Ermin’s Hotel in Westminster will reopen following renovations in mid-April.

The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel London is currently in its soft-opening phase, and the boutique Eccleston Square hotel will follow suit in Pimlico later this year. Bulgari Hotels will also open its first London property in Knightsbridge towards the end of the year.

The Hyatt Regency London – the Churchill is to undergo a “multimillion-pound” refurbishment of all guestrooms over the next few months, and Guoman’s Charing Cross hotel is nearing the completion of its project to add a new Executive Wing.

Visit corinthia.com for more information.

Report by Liat Clark

Philippine Airlines and Kingfisher look to codeshare deal

Philippine Airlines (PAL) is considering a codeshare agreement with Kingfisher Airlines following the former’s launch of its direct Manila-Delhi service (see story here).

The proposal between the two carriers was put forward on Wednesday, with the details yet to be announced. But reports said that it will allow PAL to put its code on domestic routes serviced by Kingfisher. Vivienne Tan, executive vice president of PAL, said PAL would be “interested in investing in an Indian carrier.” 

PAL, which is marking its 70th year, expects good demand from its Manila-Delhi service. Currently, there are no direct flights between the Southeast Asian archipelago and the subcontinent, giving PAL a niche market space to fill without much direct competition. The service operates six times a week – three times non-stop and three times via Bangkok.

For more information, visit www.philippineairlines.com or www.flykingfisher.com

Alisha Haridasani

Lufthansa to fly A380 to Miami

The German carrier will operate its daily Frankfurt-Miami route with an A380 aircraft from June 10, replacing the B747 currently serving the US city.

Miami will be the sixth Lufthansa destination to be served by the superjumbo, and the third US city after New York and San Francisco.

The service will use existing flight numbers LH462, departing Frankfurt at 0955, and LH463, leaving Miami at 1610.

The latest A380 route will be made possible by Lufthansa taking delivery of its 8th superjumbo in May. The carrier will be the first airline to operate the A380 into Miami.

The news follows Lufthansa’s announcement earlier today (March 31) that it will increase the number of A380 flights between Frankfurt and Beijing from three-times weekly to daily from April 10.

For more information visit lufthansa.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Ryanair to impose “compensation levy”

The carrier says it will add a €2 fee to all bookings made from April 4, to compensate for costs suffered by “force majeure” incidents such as the volcanic ashcloud, strikes and snow closures.

The carrier says that it suffered costs of over €100 million over the last year, arising from from “flight cancellations, delays and providing right to care, compensation and legal expenses arising from more than 15,000 flight cancellations and over 2.4 million disrupted passengers”.

Ryanair says that the majority of these claims arose from three periods during which it was “prevented from flying by the failure/inaction of third parties”, these being:

  • the Icelandic volcano airspace closures of April/May 2010
  • the snow closures of many EU airports during November/December 2010
  • over 15 days of national ATC strikes, primarily in Belgium, France, Germany and Spain in summer 2010, which caused repeated flight delays and cancellations.

Ryanair has named the new fee the “EU261 Compensation Levy”, referring to the EU regulation which requires carriers to provide customers with compensation and assistance in the event of delays and cancellations caused by incidents such as those listed above.

The carrier says that it is “unfair and discriminatory that airlines are made liable for providing refunds, meals, hotels and phone calls during ATC strikes, bad weather airport closures, or (volcanic) airspace closures when even travel insurance companies avoid liability during these “force majeure” events, and when competing transport providers (rail, ferries and coach operators) have no such “force majeure” liability under their equivalent EU261 regulations”.

It added that the new €2 levy will “help to defray these costs”, and said that it will reduce or eliminate the fee “if the EU261 regulations are reformed, to include an effective right of recovery clause and a non discriminatory “force majeure” clause”.

For more information visit ryanair.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Lufthansa to serve Beijing daily with A380

Lufthansa has obtained traffic rights to operate its A380 superjumbo on a daily basis between Frankfurt and Beijing from from April 10.

The German carrier currently serves Beijing with the A380 three-times weekly (departing Frankfurt on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday), with the other days being operated by Boeing 747 aircraft.

But from April 10 Lufthansa will increase this to a daily A380 service, stating that “Traffic rights have been secured with the support of Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development up to 29 October 2011”.

German website airliners.de reports that the reasons for the previous limit included fire department regulations and a lack of appropriate de-icing equipment for the A380 aircraft at Beijing airport.

The news will be of interest not only to travellers based in Germany, but also those connecting via other European services at Lufthansa’s Frankfurt hub.

For more information on the carrier’s A380 aircraft and configuration, along with those of other A380 operators, click here.

Visit lufthansa.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Easyjet to launch Manchester-Belfast route

The low-cost carrier will launch twice-daily flights to Belfast International on October 31, and will also switch its Luton-Belfast service back from Belfast City to Belfast International from May 9.

Flights will depart Belfast at 0710 and 2025 Monday to Friday (0815 and 1930 on Saturday, and 0740 and 1915 on Sunday), and from Manchester at 0840 and 1855 Monday to Friday (0645 and 2100 on Saturday, and 0910 and 2045 on Sunday).

Bmibaby and Flybe both serve Manchester from Balefast City airport.

Easyjet has also announced that from May 9 it will switch its London Luton flights back from Belfast City to Belfast International, having moved the service to Belfast City in January 2010 (see online news October 15, 2009).

At the time Easyjet said the move was to “assess if Easyjet passengers find a benefit in flying to an airport closer to the City of Belfast when travelling on shorter routes”, but has now concluded that “it makes commercial sense” to return to Belfast International, from where the carrier operates 20 other routes, including London Stansted and Gatwick.

For more information visit easyjet.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Wyndham Hotel Group to expand presence in India

Wyndham Hotels has chosen Bangalore to be the site of its first Ramada Encore hotel in the subcontinent, which is scheduled to open by year-end. The new property reflects the group’s aggressive expansion in India with several properties poised to open at the end of this month and the acquisition of another boutique brand in India under its umbrella.

Ramada Encore, located next to the Embassy Golf Links Business Park on the Intermediate Ring Road, will be a lifestyle boutique hotel with 90 rooms furnished with contemporary décor. The hotel will comprise of a gym, F&B outlets and meeting facilities.

Meanwhile, the hotel chain will open its Wyndham Hotel and Resort in New Delhi at the end of April (see story here). Furthermore, earlier this month, the group announced three new Days Hotels: two in Neemrana and one in Asansol (see story here).

These openings follow an agreement between Wyndham Hotel Group and Chatwal Hotels and Resorts to franchise and manage the latter’s Dream boutique hotel brand, which currently has a presence in Cochin, Kerala. Outside of India, the boutique hotel has set up shop in New York and Bangkok. The addition of this brand further diversifies Wyndham’s portfolio, providing guests with a wider variety of brands to choose from.

Currently, the group already has 11 hotels under its Ramada brand.

Ken Greene, president and managing director of Wyndham Hotel Group in Asia-Pacific, said: “India is a strong growth market for us with many opportunities, especially in the mid-scale space.”

He previously told Business Traveller Asia-Pacific (see story here) that the group will consolidate its presence in India and in Asia-Pacific as a whole by filling in the mid-scale market space left empty by the upscale luxury brands that first entered the region. “There is a large middle class demographic that is starting to travel more, and that’s where we come in.”

For more information, visit www.wyndhamworldwide.com

Alisha Haridasani

Preview: St Pancras Renaissance London

Business Traveller takes a look around Marriott’s latest London property, partly housed within the former Midland Grand Hotel, and currently in a soft opening phase ahead of its official unveiling on May 5.

The Midland Grand Hotel was one of several iconic railway properties in London, others including the Great Western Hotel in Paddington (now the Hilton London Paddington), The Great Eastern Hotel (now the Andaz Liverpool Street), and the Charing Cross Hotel (part of the Guoman Hotels group).

Attached to St Pancras station, the original hotel opened on May 5 1873 (hence the date of the official unveiling this year), and operated until 1935, before being used as British Rail offices until the 1980s, since when it has lain empty.

Its Gilbert Scott-designed High Victorian Gothic exterior was restored in the 1990s, before plans for a Marriott hotel were announced as part of the regeneration of St Pancras station (click here for Business Traveller’s St Pancras special edition from November 2007).

Somewhere between £150-200 million has been spent on the hotel’s renovation, although a large chunk of this will have gone on adding a new wing (housing around 200 of the new hotel’s 245 rooms), located behind the original building parallel to the station’s Barlow train shed.

Guests enter the hotel either via the main entrance off Euston Road, or directly from the rail concourse into the Booking Office Bar, next to Carluccio’s and close to the Meeting Place statue and the recently-hung Olympic Rings (see online news March 7).

Formerly the station’s ticketing office, the atmospheric bar has retained the soaring cathedral-like ceiling, iron buttresses and red brick walls, and combined this with dark-wood furniture and a 29-metre long bar. Already open to the public, the Booking Office serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as “a range of Victorian and contemporary punches, served in hand-made copper punch bowls”, and “ales, ciders, perries and porters from historical and contemporary brewers across Britain”.

To the left of the main entrance will be Gilbert Scott, a restaurant headed up by Marcus Wareing and with interior designs by David Collins Studio. This area is not due to open until May, but example dishes quoted on the website thegilbertscott.co.uk include “Dorset Jugged Steak (braised featherblade with port, pork dumplings and redcurrant)”, and “Tweed Kettle (sea trout with a lemon, nutmeg and herb crust)”. There will also be a bar, private dining room and Kitchen Table.

Through the impressive archway entrance and under a walkway bridge (accessible to guests from the first floor and offering close up views of the building’s intricate architecture), guests arrive at the lobby, and are greeted by a gleaming 3D version of Eurostar’s new logo, which was unveiled earlier this week (see online news March 29).

The lobby is bright and airy, with its exposed brick walls, glass roof and steel girders painted in a light lilac colour. Behind this area is the Hansom Hall events space with a capacity for up to 550 guests – the hotel has a total of nine meeting rooms.

While the majority of the hotel’s guests will be accommodated in the new wing, the original building (known as the Chambers) houses 38 suites and all of the property’s public areas. There’s no doubt that this part of the hotel holds the most interest in terms of architecture and décor, including the restored grand staircase and vaulted ceiling (used in the Batman film and the Spice Girls Wannabe video), as well as ornate murals and restored gold-leaf ceilings.

The original Ladies Smoking Room (the first of its kind in Europe) has also been restored and is now an events space with balcony, and many of the suites also feature original design elements and replica period furniture. The Sir George Gilbert Scott Suite is a particularly fine example, with the original wallpaper having been completely restored at a cost of nearly £50,000, while the three-bedroom Royal Suite is housed within the former Venetian Ballroom.

The constraints of the original building mean that some suites have had ensuite bathrooms “created” within the rooms, and it’s worth noting that some of the suites look inwards onto the bustling station concourse. There is also wifi internet access throughout the hotel, something which can be difficult to achieve with older buildings.

We didn’t see the rooms in the new Barlow building, but the Marriott website says that they start from 28sqm, and feature double glazed windows (unlike those in the Chambers), air conditioning, wired and wifi internet access and 37-inch flatscreen TVs.

All guests staying in the Chambers suites (and those in Barlow Club rooms) have access to a club lounge adjacent to the hotel’s entrance, offering complimentary breakfast, snacks, afternoon tea and cocktails. Marriott says memberships may eventually be sold for this space, although a final decision has yet to be made.

Finally leisure facilities include a fitness centre and whirlpool, and a ground-floor spa with treatment rooms and a sauna.

Rates at the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel start from around £250 for a room in the Barlow Wing, rising to £450 for an entry level suite in the Chambers, all the way up to £10,000 per night for the Royal Suite.

The hotel is one of a raft of properties opening or being refurbished in London ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games. W Hotels opened its first London property in Leicester Square on February 14, while the Four Seasons London at Park Lane reopened in January after a two-year refurbishment. The Savoy unveiled its £220 million revamp late last year, and St Ermin’s Hotel in Westminster will reopen following renovations in mid-April.

The Corinthia hotel London is also now taking reservations, and the boutique Eccleston Square hotel will follow suit in Pimlico later this year. Bulgari Hotels will also open its first London property in Knightsbridge towards the end of the year.

The Hyatt Regency London – the Churchill is to undergo a “multimillion-pound” refurbishment of all guestrooms over the next few months, and Guoman’s Charing Cross hotel is nearing the completion of its project to add a new Executive Wing.

For more information visit marriott.co.uk.

Report by Mark Caswell

Qantas introduces advanced seat selection – for a fee

From today (March 30) international economy passengers flying with Qantas can now choose their favourite seats in advance online, for a fee of A$20 per flight.

Australia’s national airline is following in the footsteps of its Oneworld partner British Airways in charging for the service which could potentially provide Qantas with hundreds of thousands of dollars in ancillary revenue.

The difference is that, unlike BA, Qantas is not levying the fee for passengers booked in its business or premium economy cabins. (BA does not charge for first class seat assignment). And Qantas’ fee is less than the £20 and £60 rates which BA charges for long-haul economy and business class seat selection.

Qantas says that it will not charge the fee for domestic flights, nor for higher tier members of its own loyalty scheme or equivalent members of the Oneworld Frequent Flyer programme. And passengers who check-in online 24 hours before departure will be able to select their seats, as at present, free of charge.

Although some readers may criticise Qantas’ move it must be remembered that the Australian carrier probably operates a higher percentage of long-haul flights than any other airline so that is why is so important to be able to choose your favourite seat.

In particular, Qantas flights between Europe (London Heathrow and Frankfurt) and Australia via Asia are almost always heavily booked and without frequent flyer status the average traveller usually finds the best seats taken at check-in time. So the $20 fee is invaluable in this respect because, let’s face it, it represents only a tiny proportion of the cost of a long-haul ticket.

With all airlines looking to raise extra cash we wonder how long it will be before others follow the move set by BA and Qantas ?

For more information visit qantas.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Travelodge now bigger than Hilton in London

Low-cost hotel chain Travelodge says that the opening of its latest London property in Ealing means that it is now the biggest hotel brand in the capital.

The Ealing hotel has added 99 rooms to Travelodge’s London portfolio, which now totals 5,714 rooms across 40 properties, compared to Hilton’s 5,690 (according to independent verification by hotel consultant Melvin Gold).

Travelodge says that it is on track to have at least 50 hotels and nearly 7,000 rooms in London by the start of the Olympic Games next year.

In the last six months the group has signed eight new London properties in Balham, Edmonton Green, Enfield, Finchley, Greenwich, Sidcup, Teddington and Walthamstow.

For more information visit travelodge.co.uk.

Report by Mark Caswell