Clark airport eyes position as Luzon’s second hub

Clark International Airport, the former US air force base north of Metro Manila, has gained ground in recent years as a low-cost carrier hub, an accomplishment the management is proud of – for now.

“We don’t mind being known for attracting budget airlines,” Victor Jose Luciano, CIAC (Clark International Airport Corporation) president and chief executive officer,  told Business Traveller. “We like it.”

CIAC’s long-term vision, however, is to serve as the second gateway to Luzon (one of the Philippines’ three main islands and where Manila is located). Says Luciano: “Clark Airport can serve the population of central and northern Luzon and those living in the north part of Manila like Quezon City, while NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) can serve southern Luzon.” As comparable examples, he cites the Japan’s Narita and Haneda airports as well as London’s Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted facilities. Clark is located in the province of Pampanga in central Luzon.

International departure hall

Clark’s role in the bigger picture is as catalyst in the master plan of the government’s Clark Special Economic Zone (CSEZ) to establish “Aerotropolis”, a competitive service and logistics centre by 2015. This will consist of a logistics park, a business precinct, an aeropark for air crew training and the town proper, occupying around 163 hectares. Currently, there are 550 “locators” (companies operating in CSEZ), including aviation schools, warehouses, a maintenance unit of Singapore Airlines, hotels such as Holiday Inn and condominiums.

The airport itself (the former Military Airlift Command or MAC used during the Vietnam conflict) will see greater expansion, and a third runway added to the existing two which are already capable of accommodating A380s.

View from departure hall of Mount Arayat, one of the area’s iconic attractions

Accessibility from Metro Manila remains a big challenge for Clark Airport authorities to address. The city’s infamous bottlenecks add up to the journey time if a traveller is coming from the Ortigas or Makati CBDs, and this makes the facility less viable at the moment. A light railway between Manila and Clark is the most practical solution, but is an expensive one for the goverment, which is still mulling over ways to attract investors to the project. For now, cars and taxi and bus services are the only way to arrive at the airport. Bus terminals serving Clark are located at SM Mega Mall in Quezon City and Trinoma commercial centre near the NLEX (North Luzon Expressway), from where it’s a smooth 45-minute ride to the facility complex.  

Next month, a new bus terminal and waiting hall will be inaugurated at the Trinoma Mall, according to Luciano of CIAC, making the pre-boarding experience a more comfortable one.

Air Asia Philippines arrival

At press time, low-cost airlines that serve Clark Airport include Air Asia, Air Asia Philippines, Airphil Express of Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Jin Air, Seair, Zest Air, with two full-service airlines Asiana Airlines and Dragonair also flying there.

For more details, visit www.clarkairport.com

Margie T Logarta

Plaza Premium opens new flagship lounge at Toronto Pearson

Hong Kong-based pay-in lounge company has opened its 11th and biggest airport lounge in Canada, at the International Departure Hall in Terminal 3 of Toronto Pearson International Airport.

This new 574 sqm facility across from Gate C33 can accommodate up to some 180 guests, 2.5 times the capacity of the nearby old Plaza Premium lounge, which will be closed but preserved as a backup. Plaza Premium has another lounge in Terminal 1 for international departures, as well as others for domestic departures and US transborder travel.

The overall feel of this lounge bears a noticeable resemblance to Plaza Premium’s Hong Kong flagship, The Travelers’ Lounge, and indeed, both are the work of the same designer, Kinney Chan. But there are features unique to this place such as the mother-of-pearl reception counter, New Zealand wool carpets and oval crystal chandelier. Another notable feature here is the open view to the apron (pictured below).

On the food and beverage front, aside from the usual, there is also an open kitchen serving rice noodles with beef balls and squid balls in homemade broth, as well as barista service and a selection of caffeine-free, antioxidant-rich rooibos tea.

There is a VIP room (pictured below) seating up to six and featuring a flatscreen TV suitable for making a presentation – a feature that is also on offer at The Travelers’ Lounge in Hong Kong. Advance booking is required for using this facility.

Other features include wifi, computer workstations with internet and shower room.

The lounge is open from 5am-11pm daily and it charges C$30 (US$30.17) for 2 hours; and C$35 (US$35.2) for 3 hours, excluding tax. Those with Amex Platinum and Centurion cards issued in Hong Kong, Canada and Taiwan, and Priority Pass and Airport Angel members can use the facility for free.

Airlines providing premium passengers access to this lounge are Caribbean Airlines, Transaero Airlines, Aerosvit Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Air Transat and WestJet.

Visit www.plaza-network.com

Reggie Ho

Ascott announces three more China properties by 2017

Singapore-based serviced residence provider The Ascott has obtained contracts to manage three more properties in China, amounting to some 500 additional apartment units. Lee Chee Koon, Ascott’s deputy chief executive and managing director for North Asia points to strong foreign direct investment and booms in tourism and domestic travel as drivers for growth in the country’s serviced residence sector.

The Ascott Heng Shan, to open in 2014 in Shanghai, will add 90 units to the prime Xuhui District, close to foreign consulates and major commercial areas along Nanjing Road and Huaihai Road.

The two other properties, to open in 2015 and 2017, are 250-unit Ascott Emerald City (pictured) and 194-unit Somerset Baitang, both located in Suzhou. The city has long been famed for classical gardens, historical pagodas and serene waterways, but most recently, it is also known as a growing industrial hub with fast-growing IT and research and development industries.

The Emerald City property, under the top-tier Ascott brand, is part of a mega commercial project in the booming Suzhou New District, near the Financial Banking Street. Somerset Baitang, a more family-oriented property, is located in the Suzhou Industrial Park and adjacent to the Jinji Lake East Central Business District, where many government offices and banks’ branch offices are located. It is also near Baitang Botanical Garden, Times Square shopping complex, Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store and Eslite Bookstore.  

Both properties are reachable by Metro Line 1.

Although it does not have its own airport, Suzhou is well linked to both Pudong and Hongqiao airports in Shanghai by train services, including high-speed one. The shortest train journey between the two cities lasts only 23 minutes. 

For more about Suzhou, look out for the “Inside China” feature in the January/Februrary issue of Business Traveller Asia-Pacific.

Ascott manages over 8,000 apartment units in 46 properties across 17 cities in China.

Visit www.the-ascott.com


Reggie Ho

Traders Puteri Harbour to form part of Iskandar hub in Johor Bahru

Traders Hotel, Shangri-La’s mid-range brand, is preparing to launch in a third Malaysian location in the second quarter of 2013.

Traders Hotel Puteri Harbour in will open in Johor Bahru, the capital of Johor state and the second most populous city of Malaysia. The city is located across the Straits of Johor from Singapore and linked to the Lion City by Johor-Singapore Causeway and the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link. The new hotel will join Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur and Traders Hotel Penang, opening with 283 guestrooms measuring from 32 sqm and with views of the bay. These will be housed in three four-storey buildings.

Other facilities include a 515 sqm ballroom, fitness centre and spa, rooftop garden-lounge bar and infinity pool as well as two restaurants.

Traders Hotel Puteri Harbour will be a component of Nusajaya, one of the five flagship zones in the emerging hub of Iskandar Malaysia, which is a new southern development corridor in Johor covering the entire district of Johor Bahru as well as neighbouring areas. Its size is three times that of Singapore. The hotel will be surrounded by projects such as the Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park, Johor State New Administrative Centre, Medical Hub, University Park and Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios. The new Legoland theme park is a five-minute drive away and Senai International Airport about 30 minutes.

In recent years, Johor Bahru has worked hard at overhauling its rather seedy image as a border town known for cheap consumer goods and knock-offs. The Iskandar development, whose RM6.8 billion (US$2.2 billion) master plan seeks to attract investors with its promise of being a pro-business city in the southern gateway to peninsular Malaysia, reflects government efforts in this direction.

For more details, visit www.shangri-la.com/traders

Margie T Logarta

Solaire Resort and Casino Manila gears up for March 2013 launch

Solaire Resort and Casino, set to launch phase one of development in March 2013 in the bay area of Metro Manila, is to develop into a future international brand.

The future bayside Solaire leisure complex

Enrique Razon, Jr – the Filipino container terminal tycoon, who has sunk in US$350 million to develop one of a slew of mega leisure projects rising in the bayside-located Bagong Nayon Pilipino Entertainment City – told Business Traveller that was a plan his company Bloomberry Resorts would consider “down the road”.

Razon is no stranger to thinking big. He is one of the handful of Filipino businessmen who has gone global, succeeding in seeing his International Container Terminal Service (ICTSI) supervise or manage other container ports, not only in the Philippines but in 16 other countries, including, most recently, Tamil Nadu in India and Croatia.

Tourism has now been added to his investment portfolio. “I’ve always wanted to be involved in a tourism project,” he said. “I’ve travelled a lot and always wondered why the Philippines didn’t have a world-class resort and facility with superior amenities and leisure options that were all within easy reach.

“The Filipinos are known for their great hospitality and service. You don’t have to teach them how to smile. The country also has so much to offer in terms of natural attractions. Solaire can be the gateway to the Philippines, as the Philippines can be the gateway to Solaire.”

Artist’s rendering of hotel lobby

Solaire Manila, the hotel component of the 8.3-hecatre complex, will open with 500 guestrooms, including four bayfront villas. Room sizes start from 43 sqm and suites from 75 sqm. Other facilities include a 1,300 sqm spa and fitness centre, 1,200 sqm pillarless ballroom able to host 1,000 guests for a reception, a two-level casino as well as an outdoor themed casino and entertainment bar.

A podium area will house 14 restaurants for fine dining, casual meals and a food court.

Once these are all launched and running, an all-suite tower with another 200 rooms will be completed next, Razon said, adding they purposely did not accept management offers from international hotel companies “to be able to build up our own brand”. These offers, however, could be considered in the future, he said.

Razon said he was also keen on establishing a budget-type hotel.

Red Lantern Chinese restaurant

Since the Philippine government opened up the gaming scene five years ago, local businessmen have been quick to take advantage of the policy change.

The first was billionaire Andrew Tan, whose joint venture with Genting Hong Kong, led to Resorts World Manila at Newport, opposite Terminal 3 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport and the future Resorts World Bayshore poised for a 2016 debut. Henry Sy, the maverick behind the prolific SM department store chain and other enterprises, set up Belle Corporation which is looking to start operating its US$350 million leisure complex in a few months’ time.

These developments, besides positively raising the Philippines’ tourism profile, have allowed a number of foreign hotel chains to plant their flags in a market that has seen very little movement for over a decade. Hilton has recently announced a management agreement to open in Newport (see news), while Sheraton and The Westin, both under Starwood, are slated to open at Resorts World Manila and Resorts World Bayshore respectively. 

For more details, visit www.solairemanila.com

Margie T Logarta

The longest high-speed rail route to connect Guangzhou with Beijing

The longest high-speed rail route in the world that is to connect Southern China’s leading commercial hub of Guangzhou with the national capital of Beijing is set to begin operation on December 26, reducing the journey to eight hours from the previous 24 by conventional rail. The train will stop in several cities along the way, including Wuhan (read more about the city here) and Changsha, the capital city of Hunan Province. The maximum speed is 350km per hour, but initially, the train will run at 250km to 300km per hour. The extension to Hong Kong is scheduled to open in 2015, and by then travellers will be able to reach Beijing from Hong Kong in nine hours.

But the new rail line is unlikely to affect the airline industry, as fares are rather high. There are two types of trains for the Guangzhou-Beijing service: Those with numbers starting with the letter “G” and others with “D”. The former will run at 300km per hour and the latter at 250km per hour. The cheapest ticket for the G train is priced at RMB865 (US$139) one way, and the business class fare is RMB2,700 (US$433). The cheapest ticket for the G train costs RMB712 (US$114).

At press time, a restrictive one-way economy air ticket from Guangzhou to Beijing on China Southern on December 26 is available for as little as RMB970 (US$156), while a first class ticket starts from RMB1,780 (US$286), not including the airport tax of RMB50 (US$8) and fuel surcharge of RMB130 (US$21). The flight journey takes about three hours.

Getting a ticket for the high-speed rail in China can also be a hassle. The official website www.12306.cn has no English information and it only allows registered users with credit cards from Chinese banks to book online. China Travel Service’s (CTS) website (www.ctshk.com) only offers booking service for through-train between Hong Kong and Guangzhou East, although it does sell high-speed rail tickets from its offices in Hong Kong. Another way is to ask the hotel you plan to stay at in China to book tickets for you, but additional fees may apply.

Reggie Ho

The year that was

Business Traveller rounds up some of the top stories from the world of business travel during 2012.

January

February
May
July
October

The big picture: Germanwings receives first aircraft in new livery

Germanwings has received its first aircraft painted in the carrier’s revamped livery, ahead of the launch of the “new Germanwings” next year.

The Airbus A319 feature the yellow of the carrier’s parent company Lufthansa with the familiar Germanwings purple.

The carrier has been repositioned to operate all of Lufthansa’s domestic and European non-hub flights.

The new Germanwings officially launches on January 1, but Lufthansa customers will not start to see changes to the onboard seating product until around July next year.

For more information on the launch and the new fare choices which will be available to passengers, click here.

Visit germanwings.com, lufthansa.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

China Airlines to build up its B777 fleet

Having just revealed an agreement to lease four Boeing 777-300ERs from GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) on December 18, China Airlines announces today a confirmed purchase with Boeing for another six brand-new aircraft of the same model, also powered by GE90-115BL engines. The airline expects to start receiving deliveries of these aircraft in 2014, and deploy them on North American and European routes.

The long-range, wide-body and twin-engine Boeing 777 is 19 per cent lighter than other similar jetliners and consumes 22 per cent less fuel than competitors. China Airlines expects the fuel efficiency of these new aircraft to help it stay competitive.

Visit www.china-airlines.com/en

Reggie Ho