Oman Air offers No.1 Traveller lounge access at Heathrow

Oman Air has become the first airline to partner with No.1 Traveller’s new lounge at Heathrow T3, and during the next three months passengers will also benefit from free spa treatments.

Oman Air’s business class passengers, and Gold and Silver members of the carrier’s Sindbad loyalty programme now benefit from free entry to the new lounge, located on the site of the former JAL lounge in zone F at Heathrow Terminal 3.

Business Traveller visited the lounge on its opening day – for an indepth look at the facilities on offer click here.

To celebrate the new partnership eligible passengers will also be offered free Travel Spa treatments when visiting over the next three months, ranging from massages, facials, manicures and pedicures, to hot towel wet shaves and hair styling.

Oman Air also recently unveiled new business and first class lounges at Muscat International airport – for more information click here.

First class passengers with Oman Air will continue to have access to Emirates’ lounge at Heathrow T3.

For more information visit omanair.com, no1traveller.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Chiltern launches premium economy

Innovative train firm Chiltern Railways will instigate “premium economy” seating when it speeds up its mainline London-Birmingham services on September 5.

Modelled on the airline concept of offering more for the economy traveller, Chiltern’s new Business Zone will provide rail passengers with first class comfort but at a much lower price.

Although Chiltern plies between London Marylebone and Birmingham Moor Street every half hour, the Business Zone will only be found on four “silver train” services linking London Marylebone with Birmingham Moor Street in a best transit time of around 90 mins.  

The silver trains use the same locomotive-hauled stock (dating to the British Rail era) which was previously rostered for the highly-praised but ultimately loss-making Wrexham and Shropshire service linking Marylebone and Shrewsbury which was axed last January.

Standard class passengers spend an extra £10 or £20 to access the Business Zone which comprises a separate 30-seater first class coach. You pre-pay for your seat or upgrade on board. 

Catering is not offered free of charge but passengers pay for refreshments which are served ‘at seat’. Wi-fi connections are available.

Says Thomas Ableman, Chiltern Railways’ marketing director, “Businesses told us that space to work and a decent internet connection were absolutely essential. They also told us that additional privacy at key times for increased productivity was valuable. What they didn’t value was paying over £100 extra for a sandwich, pretzels and a single glass of wine.

“We believe the premium economy service in the Business Zone creates a new class of travel that could signal the end of first class business travel across the industry.”

With its faster (a result of track improvements) and more frequent trains (twice hourly), Chiltern is aiming to woo passengers from rival Virgin Trains which serves the same route but using two different stations: Euston in London and New Street in Birmingham.

Chiltern’s flexible fares cost far less than those of Virgin Trains with journey times which are not much slower. The main advantage of Virgin is that it offers better scheduling (services every 20 mins throughout much of the day with a journey time of 82 mins) and uses state-of-the-art Pendolino tilting trains (although rail enthusiasts would maintain that Chiltern’s silver trains are better). 

Return standard fares between London Marylebone and Birmingham are £75 anytime, £50 off-peak and £25 super off-peak. Note that peak and super off-peak fares can be used on early morning departures from Marylebone.

One point of concern is that the online rail booking sites do not yet indicate which of Chiltern’s services are operated by silver trains. But the train firm tells Business Traveller that the services in question are displayed on its own timetable under the code “M S” and this can be downloaded from Chiltern’s website in PDF format.

For more information visit chilternrailways.co.uk.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Marriott ends Halifax co-branded credit card

After a tie-up lasting many years, Marriott hotels’ UK division and Halifax (Bank of Scotland) are to part company.

A letter currently being mailed to UK members of the Marriott Rewards credit card reveals that the scheme will be terminated by the end of the year.

The letter is issued by Halifax and states that members have until early October in which to earn Marriott Rewards points on credit card expenditure both in the UK and overseas. By December (on a date yet to be determined) the card will be withdrawn.

Holders of the co-branded Marriott/Halifax credit card will then be transferred to a Halifax branded card with a 0.5 per cent cashback offer in place of Marriott Reward points.

Details of the Marriott/Halifax UK credit card scheme have now been removed from the relevant websites marriott.co.uk and halifax.co.uk.

Marriott UK has yet to announce when, or if, a replacement credit card firm will be appointed to take over the business. But co-branded credit cards now provide an important revenue steam for the global hotel chains so, at some stage, expect Marriott to announce it has signed up another company.

Marriott UK itself has yet to communicate the news to its Rewards members and the hotel chain was unavailable for further comment.

For more information visit marriott.co.uk.

Report by Alex McWhirter

BA to serve Olympics-inspired menus

Michelin-star chef Simon Hulstone will work with Heston Blumenthal to create Olympic Games inspired menus across BA’s long-haul cabins, to be unveiled in March next year.

Torquay-based Hulstone has been commissioned by BA as part of the carrier’s Great Britons scheme, and will create a “bold British menu” to be served in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus cabins from March 2012, and Club World and First cabins from next May. Menus will run until the Games in September.

Hulstone will receive mentoring from Heston Blumenthal, and will also develop the menu for a “high profile pre-London 2012 ball”. Commenting on the choice of Hulstone for the role, Great Britons judge and mentor Heston Blumenthal said:

“Simon proved to have the most technical ability, as well as a thoughtful and well-balanced menu that ties into the Olympic Games and its spirit. He really impressed us with considering the feasibility of serving it on board aircrafts too. I’m really looking forward to working with him over the next year.”

Blumenthal was recently commissioned by British Airways to tackle the “unique dilemmas” posed by serving food inflight, as part of Channel 4’s Michelin Impossible series (see online news January 17).

Other winners of the Great Britons programme include Prasanna Puwanarajah from London, who will write a script to be made into a short film and shown on British Airways flights and at the pre-opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, with mentoring from Richard E Grant; and Pascal Anson from Brighton, who will create artwork to be used as the livery of 12 BA aircraft during the London 2012 Games, with support from mentor Tracey Emin.

For more information visit ba.com/greatbritons.

Report by Mark Caswell

Hilton Worldwide to debut in Sierra Leone

Hilton Worldwide has announced a 200-room property in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, scheduled to open in 2014.

The Hilton Freetown Cape Sierra will be the group’s first hotel in Sierra Leone, and will be located in the Aberdeen district of Freetown, overlooking the coastline. Facilities will include 20 suites, a business centre, health club, outdoor pool, and five restaurants and bars.

Hilton Worldwide currently has 34 properties across Africa, with eight in the pipeline including the recently-announced Hilton D’Njamena Chad (see online news August 13).

Rezidor Hotel Group also recently announced its entry into Freetown, with the rebranding of the Mammy Yoko Hotel later this year (see online news April 1).

For more information visit hilton.com.

Report by Mark Caswell


ADR Group of Indonesia wins Queensland incentive prize

ADR Group of Indonesia has been announced the winner of Tourism Queensland’s Million Dollar Memo competition.

The company has beaten 19 other global finalists to claim the prize of AU$1 million (£656,000/US$1.07 million) worth of incentive experiences for its employees.

For the past week, ADR Group’s vice president of international business development, Rusman Salem Mustam, has been competing against representatives from the other firms in a series of challenges staged on the Queensland coast. He was named the winner today at the Sea Temple Resort and Spa in Port Douglas.

Business Traveller has been following the adventures of the finalists throughout the trip, which began on the Gold Coast in the south of the state and culminated in Port Douglas in the north.

They have enjoyed experiences such as getting up close with marine life and Aussie animals in the Gold Coast’s Seaworld and Paradise Country theme parks, a gourmet cook-off in the Sunshine Coast’s Hyatt Regency Coolum, white-water rafting in Cairns, and ocean walking and snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef.

On the way they have travelled in helicopters, hot air balloons, Harley Davidsons and Hummers and stayed in properties such as Palazzo Versace on the Gold Coast and the Hilton and Shangri-La hotels in Cairns. Event partners have included Etihad Airways and Virgin Australia.

Anthony Hayes, chief executive of Tourism Queensland, told Business Traveller the event was conceived to showcase the diversity of incentive activities offered by the state and to boost its corporate group business around the world.

“What we’re doing here is the first step in a five-year strategy,” he said. “The idea is that this is a whopping great promotional stunt that is basically an invitation to say to every boss around the world: ‘If you’re a good boss you should be rewarding your staff – don’t give them cash, you should be thinking about rewarding them with a trip to Queensland.’ Kicking off with this will hopefully get companies thinking about us.”

He added: “Our greatest strength is that we have such a depth of different destinations and experiences, so there should be something that suits every company.”

Among the finalists were companies from Australia, New Zealand, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, India, the US, Germany and the UK. The UK finalist was digital agency Reading Room.

They made the shortlist by creating a 60-second video explaining why they were a great company to work for and why Queensland was the ultimate incentive destination. They also undertook campaigns to promote the state and the event.

Some 291 firms from 28 countries entered the competition. Almost 70 per cent of them were from Asia-Pacific, a key incentive market for Australia.

A group of assessors has been observing the finalists’ creativity, communication, and team and leadership skills throughout the week. They praised Rusman for “his enthusiasm for the challenges we set, his obvious love for Queensland and his strong sense of leadership, teamwork and adaptability.”

ADR Group will now have the task of deciding how to spend the prize. Rusman told Business Traveller that ADR Group will be sending groups of about 700 people in waves, including family, to enjoy Queensland.

Visit milliondollarmemo.com and tq.com.au for more information.

Report by Michelle Mannion and Margie T Logarta

Top tips for moving to Bangkok

Top tips for moving to Bangkok

Thailand is a popular destination for leisure travel, and most locals speak just enough English to interact with tourists. But moving there is a completely different experience. Our guide this week provides basic information that can make settling into Bangkok a little easier.

BUSINESS

Visa

It is necessary to obtain both a non-immigrant visa and a work permit in order to be employed in Thailand. The first step is to get the Non-Immigrant Visa Category “B” (Business and Work Visa), which is the relevant for applicants who wish to work or conduct business in the country. Applicants can either do so at the Thai consulate in their place of residence or apply for it in Thailand. This visa provides holders with a single entry for up to three months and can be processed within three days.

Once in Thailand, foreigners with a Non-Immigrant B Visa can apply for a temporary work permit, which takes up to seven days to process. 

With the work permit in hand, applicants can then extend their visa from 90 days to a year at the Immigration department, a procedure that takes 30 days. Once that is cleared, work permits can also be extended at the Department of Employment, which can be done within one day. The extended visa must be renewed every year. 

Other types of visas include the Non-Immigrant Visa category B-A (Business Approved Visa) and Non-Immigrant Visa Category IB (Investment and Business Visa).

For more information on different visa types, visit www.mfa.go.th and on work permit applications, eng.mol.go.th

 

GENERAL

Relocation and moving companies

  • Pacific Orientation Relocation Services (PORS)

PORS is a one-stop shop for expatriates moving to and from Thailand, offering a wide range of services ranging from pre-arrival assistance to home finding to settling-in and even cultural awareness training programmes. Additionally, PORS walks foreigners through the complex visa and work permit application procedures. For more information, visit www.pacificorientation.com; tel +66 2653 0805

  • V. Pack & Move (Bangkok) Co., Ltd

V. Pack & Move initially packed furniture for export only before it branched out to provide moving service. Today, it is one of the leading packing and moving companies in Thailand, providing a range of services that includes international door-to-door relocation, moving offices and exhibitions, film production logistics, industrial packing, and warehousing and clearance. For more information, visit www.vpackmove.com/Web2; tel +66 2750 9555


Supermarkets with imported foodstuff
 

  • Foodland Supermarket

Foodland has 11 stores in Bangkok and is open round the clock, every day of the year. It is renowned in Thailand for its fresh produce, meat and bread as well as a great selection of imported western and Asian foods and beverages. For more information, visit www.foodland.co.th 

  • Gourmet Market

Gourmet Market provides a comprehensive selection of groceries, fresh food products, local and international food and beverage labels, wine cellars and, believe it or not, cigar bars across its branches. A pet mall has also been set up to provide locally produced or imported pet food, medicine and accessories while a vet is available for consultation every day. For more information, visit www.gourmetmarketthailand.com

PERSONAL
 

Medical services

  • Bumrungrad International Hospital

This hospital is one of the largest private, internationally accredited hospitals in Thailand, with 554 beds and over 30 speciality centres. It provides both inpatient and outpatient care and claims to serve over 10,000 patients annually. English is widely spoken by the staff. For more information, visit www.bumrungrad.com; tel +66 2667 1000

  • Samitivej Hospital

Samitivej, recognised by UNICEF and WHO, is a leading provider of healthcare in Thailand, offering a range of services from four different hospitals: Samitivej Hospital, Samitivej Sukhumvit and Samitivej Srinakarin and Samitivej Sritacha. These facilities comprise a total of 50 specialised centres. The staff can speak Mandarin Chinese, Hainan Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Punjabi, French, German, Hindi and English.  For more information, visit www.samitivejhospitals.com; tel +66 2711 8181

 

Educational facilities

  • International School Bangkok (ISB)

Founded in 1951, ISB is an international school based on the North American curriculum and educational philosophy and it runs all levels of classes through to high school. ISB also boasts a range of extra curricular activities to facilitate more well-rounded development of the children. At high school, ISB students have the option to switch from the American system to the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma programme. For more information, visit www.isb.ac.th; tel +66 2962 5800

  • KIS International School

KIS is the only international school in Thailand to adopt the IB programme from early years through to Grade 12, thus gearing students for success in earning the IB certificate in high school before entering university, as well as building a foundation of inquiry-based learning skills. For more information, visit www.kis.ac.th; tel +66 2274 3444

 

Domestic help

  • Leow Maid Services

Founded in 2010, Leow is a maid agency licensed by the Department of Employment in Thailand. The company is specialised in providing local helpers for both local and expatriate families in Bangkok. Their services are divided into housekeeping, babysitting and elderly care. Live-in and part-time helpers are both available. For more information, visit www.leowmaid.com/about.php; tel +66 2171 5373

 

Driving license

International driving permits are legally accepted in Thailand for up to six months. After that, it is necessary to obtain a Thai driving licence. Applicants are required to have a basic health check, certification of address and a valid non-immigrant visa. Take note that the form to be filled out is in Thai and it is advisable to bring along an interpreter when applying for the licence. According to law, applicants must be at least 18 years of age and apply in person at the Department of Land Transport, which has several outlets for the procedure in Bangkok. For more information and addresses of branches, call +66 2272 3614; no website.

Hazel Ho

Boeing gives go-ahead for new B737 MAX

Boeing says it has received order commitments for nearly 500 of its re-engined B737 aircraft, and has now approved its launch, with deliveries scheduled to begin in 2017.

A total of 496 order commitments have been received from five airlines, with the manufacturer describing demand as “overwhelming”.

The new B737 MAX family will compete with Airbus’s A320 neo aircraft (neo standing for New Engine Option), with Boeing stating that its re-engined B737s will have a fuel burn four per cent lower than its rival’s forthcoming aircraft.

It had been rumoured that Boeing was considering a more radical revamp of its B737 offering, including the possibility of moving to a twin-aisle product (see online news March 8).

But the manufacturer now says it has a “strong business case” for a new engine variant of its existing B737, powered by CFM International LEAP-1B engines optimized for the 737.

The announcement comes just weeks before the long-awaited launch of the Boeing Dreamliner, with ANA set to take delivery of its first B787 aircraft on September 26 (see online news August 26).

For more information visit boeing.com.

Report by Mark Caswell


Marriott opens fourth Zurich property

Marriott has opened its fourth hotel and second Renaissance property in the Swiss financial hub of Zurich.

The 300-room Renaissance Zurich Tower Hotel joins the Zurich Marriott, the Courtyard Zurich North, and the Renaissance Zurich in the city, and is located in Zurich West, within the new Mobimo Tower.

The hotel takes up the first 15 floors of the tower, with a further nine floors dedicated to apartments. Features include “graffiti-inspired artwork leading guests through the history of the Zurich West and its industrial roots”, and “warm oak furnishings and plush bedding” in guest rooms.

F&B options include steakhouse restaurant Equinox, tapas-style bar Vivid, and American bar Lucid, while the hotel’s fitness centre and wellness zone is located on the 15th floor, and there is over 1,000sqm of events space including a terrace lounge.

The opening is part of Marriott’s plans to double its room portfolio in Europe by 2015 – the group recently announced the addition of six Boscolo hotels to its Autograph Collection (see online news July 19).

In other news Marriott has launched a new mobile app for iPhone, Blackberry and Android users, alongside a new “app-like” mobile-friendly site which can be accessed by all mobile devices.

The free app can be downloaded at marriott.com/mobile, and allows users to find nearby hotels, book a room, check upcoming reservations and access Marriott Rewards points balances.

For more information visit marriott.com, mobinotower.ch.

Report by Mark Caswell

Focus: Will Milan Malpensa become a white elephant?

With the news that Air France will cease flying between Paris and Milan Malpensa from October 29, the question must be asked whether the Italian city’s “far out” airport has much of a future. Or will it, like the ill-fated Montreal Mirabel in the past, become a white elephant? 

What cannot be disputed is the fact that conventional carriers continue to desert Malpensa in favour of “close-in” Linate. The latter is just 8km outside downtown Milan compared with Malpensa which is 48km away. 

Linate, in common with other close-in airports around the world (see Centre Stage, Business Traveller April 2011), is more popular with business people because of its convenience. It means the airlines can earn more for their seats.

Besides Air France ditching Paris-Malpensa in favour of boosting flights into Linate from three to six a day, other developments include:

  • Lufthansa Italia, which currently has eight aircraft based at Malpensa serving both domestic and international cities, will cease operations at the end of October – see online news May 25
  • Not so long ago KLM cut its Amsterdam-Malpensa service from six to three flights a day.
  • British Airways recently withdrew its Malpensa “night stopper” service. This is significant because this service used to form an early morning departure ex-Malpensa which fed BA’s network at Heathrow. (It is Linate which now boasts BA’s Milan night-stopper) It means BA’s first flight ex-Malpensa does not leave before 1205 which is of no use to business people visiting London for the day. Of BA’s eight daily Milan flights it is noteworthy that three land at Malpensa while five serve Linate.

In truth, Malpensa will survive. It will not become another Mirabel, simply because Linate cannot handle long-haul flights. Malpensa acts as Italy’s main gateway for foreign carriers like SIA, Cathay Pacific, Thai, Emirates and Jet Airways. It’s also popular with budget carriers like Easyjet because slot availability is much better than at Linate.

But it does mean that Malpensa is not realising its full potential and the reduction of short-haul feeders must concern the existing long distance carriers.

For more information visit milanomalpensa1.eu/en

Report by Alex McWhirter