Virgin launches A330 aircraft on Gatwick route

Virgin Atlantic has taken delivery of its second A330, with its inaugural flight taking place on May 1 between Gatwick and Orlando. The aircraft features a brand new economy seat and a new IFE system.

The carrier took delivery of its first A330 aircraft last month (see online news April 1), with features including a new touchscreen IFE system in both economy and premium economy.

Business Traveller has since been informed by Virgin that the economy seat installed on the A330 aircraft is also a new design. A spokesperson for the carrier said that the new seat features “an articulated seat-pan which moves in-line with the backrest when in the reclined position leading to increase passenger comfort”, as well as a backrest with a high pivot which “provides extra room at the knee area when in the recline position”.

Virgin has ordered a total of ten A330 aircraft, the first two of which will plied on leisure routes in a two-class economy and premium economy layout, with subsequent deliveries featuring a three-class layout including an Upper Class cabin.

For more information visit virginatlantic.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Hotel ICON, Hong Kong, soft opens

Hotel ICON, a 262-room property built as a training and research unit for the School of Hotel and Tourism Management by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, soft-opens today. Students on their internships will be trained in various departments by full-time staff. The hotel also has three prototype rooms where students can experiment and “design” rooms of the future. Adventurous guests can stay in these rooms.

The hotel features strong elements of local creativity, from the external structure designed by renowned local architect Rocco Yim to staff uniforms and a hotel suite conceptualised by award-winning designers Barney Cheng and Vivienne Tam. Interestingly, Tam, who designed one of the suites, is a fashion design graduate of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Guests can also get a taste of local flavours at The Market, which offers the delicious street foods of Hong Kong.

The hotel welcomed its first guest at 0730 today – a lady from Chile who has been visiting Hong Kong for the past seven years and works in the fashion industry.

“We are looking at people who are not tied to a hotel chain experience, such as those in the manufacturing and creative industry. They want something different and contemporary,” said Richard Hatter, general manager of Hotel ICON. According to Hatter, 135 rooms have already been booked for tonight and the hotel is looking at an occupancy rate of around 70 percent for the first three nights.

All rooms, ranging from 36sqm to 80sqm, cater to the business traveller with a complimentary mini-bar, an iPhone/iPod docking station and a Skype function embedded in the television set. Free wifi internet access is available throughout the entire hotel. There is a business centre on the 28th floor and the Grand Ballroom with a capacity for 480 people.

Other amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, gym and the Angsana Spa.

Rates at Hotel ICON start from HK$2,068 (US$266) for a night at the Icon 36 Harbour View Room – the entry-level room. Its grand opening is planned for the third quarter of 2011.

For more information, visit www.hotel-icon.com.

Rachael Ho

Asiana Airlines to fly daily to San Francisco and Seattle

Asiana Airlines today said it is to increase its long-haul frequencies to San Francisco and Seattle to daily services starting May 25.

The South Korean carrier will increase flight frequency between Seoul-Incheon and San Francisco from the current five-time-weekly return service to seven times weekly both ways. An additional Boeng B777-200ER will be deployed on the route, ensuring that every flight will be equipped with the new fully flat OZ Quadra Smartium business class product launched last year (see story here).

The daily return service between Seoul-Incheon and Seattle, however, will be a temporary measure to cater to the peak summer season in the US. This summer flight schedule is set from May 25 to September 17, 2011.

Meanwhile from May 25, the time slot of the return flight between Seoul-Incheon and Chicago will be rescheduled. From the Korean capital, the flight to Chicago will depart at 1100, instead of at 1850, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with arrival at 0940. The return leg from Chicago will depart at 1200, instead of 0100, arriving back in Seoul at 1600 the following day, instead of 0500.

For more information, visit www.flyasiana.com

Alisha Haridasani

First Look: Ramada Encore Bangkok

Wyndham Hotel Group’s Ramada Encore brand will debut in Bangkok on May 20, 2011, positioning itself as a trendy, fresh mid-market brand for the tech-savvy, value driven business traveller.

The 188-room Ramada Encore Bangkok is located within the CBD on Sukhumvit Soi 10, about a 45-minute drive from Suvarnabhumi Airport and close to Asoke BTS and Sukhumvit BTS stations.

All rooms are divided into five categories: Cool, Chill, Deck, Hip and the Encore Suite. The Cool rooms are the entry-level rooms, of which there are 21 in total and measure 24sqm. There are 148 Chill rooms, measuring 26sqm, seven Deck rooms and 11 Hip rooms, both measuring 30sqm each, and one Encore Suite, which measures 50sqm. As the name suggests, the Deck rooms consist of private balconies for sunbathing.

All rooms are wired with free wifi internet access, universal power sockets and a media connectivity panel enabling guests to hook their gadgets onto the TV.

The property is designed to reflect Bangkok’s energetic and thriving atmosphere with vibrant colours, state-of-the-art technology and contemporary yet simple design. This trendy thread trickles down as well to the staff too, who were all hired due to their outgoing and social personalities to match the feel of the hotel, claims Des Pugson, vice president of operations in Asia-Pacific of the Wyndham Hotel Group.

For corporates, the hotel offers a meeting room, which accommodates up to 36 people. Other amenities at the hotel include a rooftop salt water swimming pool, a gym, a business centre and two F&B outlets – The Hub and Chakra.

This new brand tier is the hotel group’s sixth brand in Asia-Pacific, offering travellers a variety of hotels to choose from across all segments of the market from the budget to the upscale luxury sector.  

The brand’s mid-market placement fits within the group’s growth strategy across Asia-Pacific, which involves focusing on the large upward mobile middle classes. “The hospitality industry is like a pyramid with the luxury segment at the very tip targeting a small number of affluent people, who will pay anything for an experience and a base of budget options,” said Ken Greene, president and managing director in Asia-Pacific for the Wyndham Hotel Group. “But, there’s a large middle segment that is not addressed and we are trying to fill that gap.”

The second Ramada Encore hotel in Asia-Pacific will open in Bangalore at the end of this year (see story here).

For more coverage of Wyndham Hotel Group in Asia, click here and here, or for more information, visit www.wyndhamworldwide.com.

Alisha Haridasani 

Business Traveller May edition now live

Subscribers to the print version of Business Traveller can access the edition online a whole month before everyone else. All of our special reports and destination features are uploaded to businesstraveller.com each month, and the May 2011 edition has just gone live.

Subscribe to Business Traveller today, and as an added bonus you’ll receive a Swiss Travel Products World Travel Adaptor with UBS Charger and up to 20 per cent off your subscription price. For more information click here.

 

This month’s packed issue includes:

  • A round-up of 101 things we hate about hotels
  • A look at innovations in economy class food
  • A report on options for rail travel in Europe
  • Tips on what to do if civil unrest strikes when you’re abroad
  • A look at the future of car rental
  • Golfing around the Algarve
  • Frequent traveller: why packing is a pain when you’re a woman
  • A round-up of the latest ultraportable laptops
  • A look at Zurich’s cultural renaissance
  • Meetings in Birmingham
  • The lowdown on the Q Hotels brand
  • The newest products available tax-free at the airport
  • A report on how APD is changing travel patterns
  • A look at options for flying from London to San Diego
  • Kicking back in the serene lakeside setting of Udaipur
  • Four hours in Dusseldorf
  • A look at whether a macrobiotic diet can improve your well-being

If you are already a subscriber to Business Traveller, simply log in here (using the email address attached to your subscription), then click on the archive button on the navigation bar for full access. If you are unsure of your log in details, or have any problems accessing the archive as a print subscriber, click here to send us an email.

Plymouth airport to shut

Plymouth City Airport is set to close by the end of this year, its owner the Sutton Harbour Group has announced.

The news comes as a blow for the airport’s main passenger airline Air Southwest.

A spokesman for the carrier said the announcement was “disappointing for Air Southwest and for Plymouth”.

However, he said the announcement had provided “much-needed clarity”, after a “difficult and protracted period of uncertainty”.

“Air Southwest plans to continue to provide flights from Plymouth City Airport to its current range of destinations for as long as the airport remains operational,” added the spokesman.

Air Southwest, previously owned by the Sutton Harbour Group and sold to Eastern Airways last year (see online news September 20, 2010), had already cancelled a number of its routes from Plymouth, including London City and Gatwick.

With the news of Plymouth’s closure the regional airline will in the future focus on its Newquay and Bristol bases.

The spokesman said: “In particular, Air Southwest is firmly established as the main year-round carrier from Newquay Cornwall Airport, with locally based aircraft and crews, and fully intends to continue serving the travel needs of Cornwall.”

For more information visit plymouthairport.com, airsouthwest.com.

Report by Sara Turner

ANA and SAS sign codeshare pact

Star Alliance members All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) recently signed a codeshare agreement, which will take effect on May 23, 2011.

Travellers flying between Tokyo-Narita and Copenhagen can book with the Japanese carrier to board an SAS-operated flight to and from either city. SAS has a daily return service between the two destinations.

As part of the agreement, SAS will place its flight codes on ANA-operated domestic flights from Tokyo-Narita to Sapporo, Osaka and Fukuoka. At a later stage, ANA similarly will place its flight codes on SAS flights within Europe. The exact date will be revealed once the airlines obtain government authorisation.

For more information, visit the airlines’ website at www.ana.co.jp and www.flysas.com/en

Rachael Ho

Air China to launch Beijing-Milan route

Hardly a week after announcing a new service from Beijing to Athens via Munich (see story here), Air China will also launch a thrice-weekly direct flight between Beijing and Milan from June 15 onwards – a clear reflection of the carrier’s rapidly expanding international network.

The service, operated by a wide-body Airbus A330-300, will depart Beijing every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 1330 and arrive in Milan at 1900.

The return leg will depart Milan at 1330 and arrive back in Beijing at 1330 the following day.

This is Air China’s second route into Milan after the Shanghai-Milan route, launched in 2008.

Zhou Enyong, general manager of marketing at Air China, said: “Since joining the Star Alliance network in 2007, Air China’s international network has been strengthened to cover 29 countries and regions.”

Passengers can now book tickets through the carrier’s website or its ticketing hotline.

For bookings and more information, visit www.airchina.com

Alisha Haridasani

Centara Hotels and Resorts woos Middle East travellers

Centara Hotels and Resorts is tapping into the growing outbound travel from the Middle East.

From now until October 31, the hotel group is offering perks such as Arabic newspapers and TV channels, family floors and private lounge areas for women and children, halal food and Arabic-speaking staff.

Furthermore, during the Ramadan period, which falls between August 1 and 30, the hotel group will serve Arab guests the pre-dawn suhoor meal as well as iftar, refreshments to break the fast at sunset.

These benefits are being rolled out across the hotel group’s properties in Bangkok, Pattaya, Samui, Phuket, Krabi and Chiang Mai.

Chris Bailey, senior vice-president for sales and marketing at Centara Hotels and Resorts, said: “The Middle East is an important market for Thai tourism, and Centara places high emphasis on serving our Arabic guests at all times.

“Ramadan is a time that brings its own demands in terms of service and facilities, and we ensure that these are met every year,” he added.

The Middle East has proven to be a fast-growing market for tourism in Thailand, with arrivals from the region rising from 483,983 in 2009 to 595,298 in 2010. This growth is aided by the expanding aviation links between Thailand and the region as well as the country’s 30-day visa-free entry for citizens of Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE.

For more information, visit www.centarahotelsresorts.com

Alisha Haridasani