The Churchill hotel partners with Saatchi gallery

Hyatt Regency’s The Churchill hotel in London will display a number of artworks from the Saatchi Gallery throughout 2012 as part of an exclusive partnership.

This is the first time in the gallery’s history that it will be working exclusively with a central London five-star hotel to create what it calls a ‘cultural playground’ throughout the hotel. The Saatchi Gallery, located on the King’s Road since 2008, has been displaying cutting-edge contemporary art for free since 1985.

The first of a series of three exhibitions taking place at the hotel throughout 2012 will open on February 1. Entitled One Giant Leap, the exhibition represents the beginning of the unique partnership between gallery and hotel, but also acts as an introduction to the wide range of works drawn from the Saatchi Gallery’s collection. The hotel hopes that the exhibition will provide a welcome contrast from the traditional image of The Churchill and also that the artwork provokes and surprises its guests over the next year.

Highlights of the exhibition include Martin Honert’s Reisen, a sculpture of two giants, each almost three-metres high; a series of small paintings featuring children, teenagers and young athletes by acclaimed painter Chantal Joffe; Christina Mackie’s life-size hippopotamus; two paintings by Dexter Dalwood in his vision of what you might find if you were invited into the homes of Liberace and the Queen; and Stella Vine’s homage to Margaret Thatcher.

Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, Alvaro Valeriani, area director of sales and marketing for The Churchill, said that he hopes the installation of these interesting pieces will help make the hotel “not just another stop for the business man, but something to remember and say: ‘I’ve been there.’”

In addition, from February 1 to April 30, a limited edition Saatchi Gallery Suite will be available for guests to stay in. This exclusive suite will feature a collection of Saatchi Gallery works, some of which have not yet been exhibited within the gallery. The suite’s luxury bathroom will also be designed by young artist Celine Fitoussi with a ‘wall-to-wall soap installation,’ which is intended to create a more interactive element as guests can smell and scratch messages into the walls.

The Limited Edition Saatchi Gallery Suite is available from £700 per night for the stated period, subject to availability. Guests can make a reservation by contacting the hotel directly on: +44 20 7486 5800, or emailing london.churchill@hyatt.com.

This move comes following a full refurbishment of the Churchill (see online news January 26, 2011), which was completed spring last year.

Business Traveller will be publishing a feature about the relationship between art and hotel design in the March 2012 print edition – to subscribe click here.

For more information, visit london.churchill.hyatt.com and saatchi-gallery.co.uk.

Report by Scott Carey

The big picture: Hong Kong Airlines Club class seating

Hong Kong Airlines has revealed images of its Club Classic and Club Premier seating onboard its new Airbus A330-200 aircraft set to serve the London-Hong Kong route from March.

The images show seats upholstered in a burgundy material, with Club Classic configured for 82 cradle seats in a 2-2-2 layout, with a seat width of 22 inches and a pitch of 51 inches. IFE screens swing out of armrests rather than being positioned on seatbacks.

Club Premier offers 34 fully-flat seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, with a 73-inch bed. From the image the IFE screen would appear to be fixed in position, with a large table that swings round from beside the seat.

Both cabins will also benefit from wifi internet access, and “sky bars”. The carrier will operate daily flights into Gatwick’s North Terminal starting March 8. For a seatplan of the aircraft showing the layout of both Club Classic and Club Premier cabins, click here.

For more information visit hongkongairlines.com/club.

Report by Mark Caswell

Club Classic

Club Premier


Odeon West End to undergo hotel redevelopment

The Odeon West End on Leicester Square is to be redeveloped into a mixed use hotel, cinema, residential and restaurant complex, following its purchase by Jasminder Singh, chairman and CEO of the Edwardian Group.

The Odeon West End is situated on the south western corner of the square, and according to a press release by Radisson Edwardian Hotels, the property has planning permission for “a new 245 bedroom hotel, a two screen cinema, 33 residential properties and five restaurants on Leicester Square”.

No further details about the development have been released at this stage, but Radisson Edwardian said that “Mr Singh and his group are planning to make significant announcements about the purchase in the coming weeks”.

Leicester Square is currently undergoing a major facelift in time for the London 2012 Games, and last year Starwood opened its first W Hotels property in London on the north west corner of the square (for a review click here).

Report by Mark Caswell

American Airlines and BA offer free first class upgrades

Transatlantic joint venture partners American Airlines and British Airways are both currently offering a one-way upgrade to first class for selected business class return tickets purchased before March 30.

AA’s offer can be accessed here, and is valid for residents of the United Kingdom purchasing qualifying business class tickets from the UK to the US and/or Mexico. The promotion is valid on AA-operated and BA codeshare flights, for bookings made by March 30 and travel before April 6.

BA’s offer can be found here, and is valid for fully-flexible published Club World J fares booked and travelled by March 30. The promotion is valid on BA and AA/Qantas-operated routes, for flights starting and finishing in the UK.

Full terms and conditions for both promotions can be seen on the relevant links above.

Visit ba.com, aa.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Economy Plus now on all former Continental B757 aircraft

United Airlines – the merged carrier of United and Continental – has rolled out Economy Plus seating to all of its former Continental B757 aircraft serving international routes including London, Manchester, Dublin and Edinburgh.

The pre-merger United launched Economy Plus seating back in 1999, and already offers the product on around 400 mainline aircraft and 150 regional jets.

The decision was made to extend Economy Plus to Continental aircraft last year (see online news February 18, 2011), and seating has now been rolled out to all of the carrier’s international B757-200 aircraft.

The product offers six inches of extra legroom, and the newly-configured aircraft now feature 16 full-flat Business First seats, 45 Economy Plus seats and 108 economy seats.

A total of 41 aircraft have been refitted, and will operate principally on routes from New York Newark to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Belfast, Berlin, Birmingham, Copenhagen, Dublin, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Hamburg, Lima, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Manchester, Oslo, Paris, Shannon, Stockholm and Stuttgart, and between Washington/Dulles and Amsterdam and Paris.

Passengers can upgrade to Economy Plus seating either online or at the airport, and premium members of the United Mileage Plus loyalty scheme enjoy free upgrades to Economy Plus where available.

While the merged United Airlines now flies under a single operating certificate, both websites united.com and continental.com remain active for reservations for the time being.

Report by Mark Caswell

Cathay Pacific reopens Level 7 of The Wing

Cathay Pacific has reopened Level 7 of its signature lounge at Hong Kong International Airport – The Wing – today, with enhanced food and beverage facilities as well as new design elements.

The lounge still essentially feels like the original Wing – a deliberate move to assure travellers that instead of “replacing our ‘old friend'” the renovation simply reinvents the space, according to Alex McGowan, Cathay Pacific general manager of products.

The reopening of this section of the lounge follows that of Level 6 last year (see story here), which now consists of a striking back-lit frosted glass wall behind the reception desk, and a contrasting wood wall on the other side, where the staircase up to Level 7 is located. This new design of Level 6 makes the entrance more embracing and open, and not closed off like before.

After making their way up to Level 7, guests are greeted by another reception desk. This floor of The Wing has been completely reconfigured, which would immediately be noticed by anyone familiar with this long-standing lounge. For one, more of ceiling has been taken out to allow for a more airy ambiance. Furthermore, natural elements are placed across the facility, from bamboo displays to more wood-based furniture, complementing the abundant natural light. There are no workstations or shower facilities on Level 7 – those have been moved down to Level 6 – making this space purely for relaxation.

To the right of the reception is what is known as the “atrium lounge,” which is simply an extended seating area with a mix of arm chairs, bar stools and Cathay’s specially designed Solus chairs, unveiled in 2010 in the carrier’s newest lounge – The Cabin (see story here). To the left is the main lounge, which forks off into two areas: the self-service lounge and the long bar lounge to complement the signature Long Bar. Again, there’s a mix of seating options including more Solus chairs for individual travellers and couches for groups and families.

The Noodle Bar, which was once tucked into a small area under a ceiling, has now been expanded to seat 172 people, up from the previous 80. The ceiling is gone, and the space is punctuated with bamboo centrepieces. With the extra space, the Noodle Bar can now offer a variety of seating options, such as the high bar stools circling bamboo art pieces or the more private cabana-like cabins. Previously, the Noodle Bar only had long, communal canteen-style tables. There are also more options on the menu, such as traditional dim sum and Chinese buns, or bao.

Opposite the Noodle Bar is the Wing’s newest offering: the Coffee Loft, which is a cafe serving breakfast items in the morning, followed by afternoon tea and cocktails in the evening. The Coffee Loft has regular tables with 26 seats, and two large yet cosy sofa areas.

The renovation was designed by London-based architects from Foster + Partners, who were also behind The Cabin. Although many design elements are similar to The Cabin, such as the use of granite, white marble and wood-colour theme, in many ways The Wing deviates from the more “funky” style of The Cabin in order to maintain its original feel. For example, many colours seen at The Cabin such as the deep maroon Solus chairs and the pulsating, colourful LED-light wall in the IT Zone are not found here. Instead, The Wing has tan brown Solus chairs and more neutral yellow lights illuminating the walls.

The Wing has always been Cathay’s gem of a lounge and the recent facelift works to polish it up. The most popular elements of the original Wing have been retained – the full view of the runway across the lounge, the Noodle Bar and the Long Bar – while the new Coffee Loft and enhanced design features give the experience new excitement.

There are a total of 24 Solus chairs on level 7 and nine on Level 6. Every seat in the lounge comes with its own power socket for passengers to plug in their gadgets and enjoy the free wifi available throughout the facility.

As with all of Cathay’s lounges, The Wing is open for first and business class passengers as well as Marco Polo members of silver-tier and above, and oneworld members of sapphire-tier and above. The lounge is open from 0530 until the last departure.

The final phase of the lounge renovation, due to start within the next few months, will focus on the first class area and while work is being carried out, the “atrium lounge” section will be reserved for first class passengers’ exclusive use. Though the completion date for phase three of the renovation has not been confirmed, the carrier is aiming for the fourth quarter of 2012.

At the unveiling event of the renovated lounge, Ivan Chu, chief operating officer of Cathay Pacific, stated that this year was “a big year for Cathay Pacific products,” referring not only to the refreshed Wing but also to the forthcoming premium economy and new long-haul economy seats announced late last year (see story here). Stay tuned for an exclusive review of the new seats, which will appear online and in the April issue of Business Traveller Asia-Pacific.

For more information, visit www.cathaypacific.com

Alisha Haridasani

Locog to hand back 120,000 hotel rooms

The Olympics organising committee is to return 20 per cent of rooms it had reserved for media, sports federations, the IOC and sponsors over the London 2012 Games, totalling over 120,000 room nights at 200 hotels across the capital.

Locog said the rooms range from five-star to budget hotels, and CEO Paul Deighton said that he hoped the move would “enable the hotels to continue with their planning for this summer as we all work together to stage a spectacular Games”.

“The hotel industry in London got behind the bid to stage the Games in the most extraordinary way and that support helped us across the line,” said Deighton. “We always promised that we would not hold on to hotel rooms we didn’t need but return them to the individual hotels at the beginning of 2012.”

Visit Britain has welcomed the announcement, calling it “great news for overseas visitors wishing to come to the UK to experience the Olympics and all the other wonderful festivities that are taking place over the summer”.

Business Traveller contacted several major hotel groups with properties in London, but has yet to receive any comment regarding the news.

For more information visit london2012.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Palace Hotel Tokyo set to open

After a US$1.2 billion investment, the Palace Hotel Tokyo is set to debut on May 17.

Located in the business district of Tokyo’s central Marunouchi, the 23-storey property is an eight-minute walk from the Tokyo Station and 15 kilometres from Haneda International Airport. Its main entrance is located across the street from Otemon Gate, which was once the main gate of the Edo Castle that housed the imperial family.

palacehoteltokyo

The hotel will offer 290 rooms, including 12 suites. There will be 10 dining destinations, including an all-day dining grand kitchen and lobby lounge on the first floor. The sixth floor houses four Japanese restaurants, with three of them specialised in sushi, tempura and teppanyaki respectively. Also on the same floor are the French restaurant and a lounge bar, while the fifth floor is home to the Chinese restaurant.

For meetings and events, there will be a total of six function rooms to choose from, with the main facility offering a capacity for 1,500 people.

In addition, the hotel’s first of four basements level will feature 17 retail outlets, and double as an underground passage to the Otemachi subway station. The passage will be completed in spring 2013. The property is also home to the second Evian Spa outside of France.

Palace Hotel Tokyo president, Takashi Kobayashi said: “The hotel is Japanese through and through, from its ownership and management, to its service protocols and its picture-perfect location by the Imperial Palace gardens and moats. For domestic and international travellers alike, whether they’re with us for business or leisure, we hope they will walk away saying, ‘To have stayed at Palace Hotel Tokyo is to have experienced the very essence of Japanese hospitality’.”

The hotel will begin taking room reservations on February 1.

For more information, visit www.palacehoteltokyo.com 

Tiffany Sandrasageran

Ovolo acquires Somerset property in Melbourne

Hong Kong-based serviced apartment and hotel group, Ovolo, plans to open its first international property this year, in Melbourne, Australia. 

The group acquired the property – the former Somerset Gordon Heights – from The Ascott Residence Trust and will refurbish and rebrand it into Ovolo serviced apartments. Located on Little Bourke Street in the city’s central business district, the property consists of 43 unites, including studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments, which can be rented out on either a daily or monthly basis. 

The reopening date of the rebranded property has not yet been confirmed but the group is aiming for mid-2012.

In Hong Kong, Ovolo has a total of six properties, with the newest one in West Kowloon, which opened in April last year (see story here).

For more information, visit www.ovologroup.com

Alisha Haridasani

Thai to axe non-stop Los Angeles service

Thai Airways will cease its special Bangkok to Los Angeles flight at the end of April. It follows on from the ending of the Bangkok-New York service in 2008 and it means that Thai will no longer serve the US non-stop.

The daily non-stop A340-500 flight to Los Angeles accommodates 215 passengers in a three-class layout: business, premium economy and economy classes. It will be cut to a five times a week service from February 1 and will cease altogether on April 30. 

From May 1 the service (still using the same flight numbers TG794/TG795) will operate four times a week. But it will instead be rostered for a 292-seater B777-200ER (configured for business and economy class) and instead of flying non-stop, will touch down in Seoul’s Incheon airport, as confirmed on the carrier’s website here.

As a result the flight time to the US will be extended from today’s 14 hrs 50 mins to 17 hrs 35 mins.  On the way back, today’s time of 17 hrs 35 mins will become 19 hrs 40 mins.

The A340-500 is the only aircraft in Thai’s fleet which is capable of flying to Los Angeles non-stop. It will be missed because it offered passengers an economical, yet speedy way to reach the US West Coast. And Los Angeles is home to the largest Thai population in the US.

It is true that SIA still continues with its five times a week non-stop service to Los Angeles from Singapore. But SIA operates its A340-500s in an all-business class layout and so fares are higher.

The four-engined A340-500 was conceived in the days of cheap fuel. It was specifically designed to operate non-stop routes between SE Asia and the US. But it has become uneconomical to operate on these long routes at today’s oil prices.

SIA has made the plane work for its Los Angeles and New York routes by reconfiguring the cabin to accommodate a maximum of 100 business class passengers. But Thai has remained with its three class layout and this does not generate the same passenger revenue.

It is unclear what will happen to Thai’s fleet of four A340-500s. For some time now, the airline has been trying to find a buyer but the offers for these five-year old, but unfashionable (with today’s fuel costs) planes have been derisory.

Most probably they will continue to operate other Thai routes on an ad hoc basis before being retired from the fleet.

For more information visit thaiairways.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter