First Look: Thai Airways A350-900

Thai Airways A350

Thai Airways has officially taken delivery of its first Airbus A350-900.

Thailand’s flag carrier has 12 on order, four purchased directly from Airbus and the other eight acquired under lease from US-based CIT. Two will be delivered this year, followed by five in 2017 and another five in 2018.

The first scheduled A350 flight will be on the Bangkok-Melbourne route on September 16. In October, the airline will take delivery of its second A350, also operating on the Melbourne route – a double daily A350 service to the Australian city.

“Since the 1960s, we have been operating as a state enterprise, and having the great status of being the Thai national carrier,” said Charamporn Jotikasthira, president of Thai Airways International. “With this honour and responsibility, we are committed to providing excellent service beyond passengers’ expectations, and to making their travel experience a memorable one.

“The A350XWB aircraft is important to Thai Airways’ theme – efficiency and competitiveness. The fuel-efficient engine of the A350 aircraft is designed to reduce CO2 emissions and reduce maintenance costs, which are key elements in Thai’s “Smooth as Silk” operation and performance. Thai is now growing from strength to strength; we look forward to moving more and more in this direction – and the A350XWB can help us do this.”

Business Traveller Asia-Pacific flew on the A350 delivery flight as a guest from Toulouse to Bangkok.

CABINS

Thai Airways has outfitted its first A350 with a two-class configuration, offering 32 Royal Silk Class (business class) and 289 economy seats. The seats are located in three cabins, with all business class seats in the front cabin Zone A, 159 economy seats in Zone B and 130 in Zone C.

ROYAL SILK CLASS (BUSINESS CLASS)

The business seat is almost the same as the equivalent products found on Thai’s A380s and B777-300ERs. There are 32 business class seats staggered in Solstys style, arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration from rows 11 to 19 (with no row 13). The seats have 44 inches (112cm) of seat pitch and are 20 inches (51cm) wide. They can be reclined 180 degrees and are 73.5 inches (187cm) long.

In-seat amenities include a 16-inch LCD touchscreen monitor. The screen is very sensitive – mine only needed a gentle touch to select my choice in the Panasonic IFE system. Two USB ports are located under the monitor. There is a wide side table, but no holder for a glass. A narrow compartment rack above the side table is suitable for storing a tablet or magazine, and there’s a night lamp under the rack. A reading light is also positioned at shoulder height, offering three levels of brightness.

The chair adjustment panel is a set of buttons located by the side table – mine worked very fast and efficiently. The touchscreen IFE handset is situated right under the panel. Again, it needed merely a gentle touch to click through the options.

The IFE system offers a wide range of in-flight content, including 100 movies, 150 TV programmes and 500 CD albums, as well as information about Thailand and the onboard services. Thai has also introduced a new Sky Chat platform, allowing text and emoticon messaging between business and economy passengers.

Under the IFE handset is a 110v AC power outlet, and a side pocket containing the headset and a Thann amenity kit (containing socks, earplugs, eyeshades, comb, mouthwash, and moisturising cream and lip balm by Thann). The dining/work table is pulled down from a vertical position in the panel in front of you. My table was very solid and balanced, and a benefit is the ability to push it forward slightly in order to get out of your seat without having to take anything off it.

Thai Airways’ A350 focuses on storage space. Many other airlines’ A350s have removed the middle overhead storage in business class, but Thai has kept this in its new aircraft, providing more luggage space for passengers, especially in seats E/F or D/G.

The A350 provides onboard wifi when flying over 10,000 feet (wifi is not available in Chinese air space). Business class passengers receive a voucher to redeem free wifi service (Gold and Platinum Royal Orchid Plus members also get free wifi). This requires filling out a few pages of registration on your device before connecting to the internet.

I tried the wifi and found it relatively fast. However, if I didn’t use the internet for 15 minutes, I needed to log in again using the redeem code. Economy passengers can use onboard wifi  by purchasing one of the following packages: US$4.99 for 10MB, US$8.99 for 20MB, US$12.99 for 30MB or US$34.99 for 100MB.

I was allocated seat 14F, a central seat beside 14E. If you do not know the person next to you, you can slide a partition out between the seats. The partition board is not particularly high so you don’t have much privacy when seated, but in the lie-flat bed position this is not a problem – though as the partition only comes to the edge of the seat, my neighbour bumped knees with me while we were sleeping.

I slept well for around three hours. The relative silence on the A350 is due to the ventilation fans being hidden in the ceiling, while the plane’s nose has a steeper angled design to reduce friction as air flows over the top of the plane. The very quiet environment in the cabin has one down side, in that before I fell asleep I could hear other passengers snoring loudly. The bed itself is comfortable, but since I am tall (6ft 3″/190.5cm), my head and feet touched each end of the seat.

Best seats in business class

Every seat has direct access to the aisle, but if you want more privacy, the A and K seats by the windows would be the correct choice. Rows 11 and 19 are close to the galley, so potential noise might be an issue.

ECONOMY CLASS

I took some time to try out the economy seat product. Economy class is configured in a 3-3-3 setup from rows 31 to 63. Seat pitch is 32 inches (81cm) and is the most generous compared to other airlines’ A350s – even though I have long legs, my knees didn’t touch the seat in front of me. The seat reclines to 120 degrees and slides forward in the process. Every seat has a footrest, but I wouldn’t recommend using it when you recline, as it limits your foot space. Seat width is 18 inches (46cm), identical to other carriers’ A350s, and each seat comes with an 11-inch LCD touchscreen monitor.

Passengers in the middle seat will find Thai’s A350 quite spacious. Airbus designed the A350 body with more vertical side walls. With its cabin width reaching 5.61m, and a comfortable nine-across 3-3-3 configuration, spacing is surprisingly good, and passengers in the middle seats don’t have to worry about their shoulders squashing against those of their neighbours.

The overhead storage on the A350 is also very good, with plenty of room for everyone’s luggage. However, the middle rows from 59 to 63 do not have overhead storage, while the ceiling of rows 62 and 63 are lower than elsewhere.

Best seats in economy class

More leg space is available in row 31 as it is designed for use with a baby bassinet. Row 49 is the exit row, and therefore does not have seats A and K. This means seats 50A and K gain a lot of leg room.

For more information, visit thaiairways.com

Valerian Ho

First look: Conrad Manila

Conrad Manila exterior facade

BACKGROUND Conrad Manila opened on June 15, and its striking design has already earned it Best Hotel Architectural Design and Best Hotel Interior Design at the fourth annual Philippines Property Awards. The hotel is managed by Hilton Worldwide in partnership with the building’s owner SM Hotels and Conventions Corporation.

LOCATION & LAYOUT The property is situated on the seafront side of the SM Mall of Asia – a 42-hectare complex that is part of the Bay City development area earmarked as a major new shopping, leisure and business hub. Direct airbridges on the second floor connect the hotel to the SMX Convention Center, the country’s largest conference space, and the Mall of Asia Arena is close by, which hosts international shows and major sporting events.
It’s a relatively easy 20-30 minute drive from the international airport, the journey taking you past the City of Dreams complex, under the concrete pilings of an overhead expressway and between a number of vast, empty, muddy lots waiting for development. To be honest it’s not the most picturesque of surroundings, but you forget that on arrival at the hotel, whose sweeping white lines – inspired by the vessels that ply the waters of Manila Bay – are an arresting sight.

Sitting on top of the two-level S Maison high-end shopping mall, the hotel’s enormous main lobby is on the third floor, with rooms on levels 4 to 7 (the top floor, level 8, is occupied solely by the presidential suite). Huge amounts of window space present panoramic views out over the sea – particularly beautiful in the late afternoon and at sunset (the hotel faces west).
The shipping theme continues throughout the hotel, with broad corridors, curving walls and marine-themed works of art everywhere – there are more than 600 artworks, all by Filipino artists.

ROOMS The 347 rooms are split into five categories: deluxe, premier, executive, suite and presidential suite. During my stay only rooms on levels 4 and 7 were completed (levels 5 and 6 were not fully finished) and the hotel was already operating at more than 90 per cent capacity (of available rooms). I had a bay view deluxe king on the seventh floor, with Executive Lounge access. The décor is minimalistic, using a variety of light woods and recessed ceiling lighting. Side tables and the work desk sport thin legs – my desk faced the wall and is a little narrow if you’re the type to do heavy work with multiple papers to spread out, but the ergonomic chair was very comfortable. The TV faced the bed but was not articulated, which was a shame as the sofa by the window was a great place to sit – the view shows a quiet road, a small waterfront funfair and straight out over the bay water to the horizon.
The bathroom offers aromatherapy products, and I appreciated the oversized walk-in shower area, meaning no painful elbow cracks while washing.

LOUNGE The Executive Lounge on the seventh floor has room for more than 50 people to relax, eat and drink. It’s split into a range of comfortable areas, some with tables and chairs, others with sofas, easy chairs and coffee tables. On the left is the food station, where breakfast is served, as well as all-day snacks and canapés, etc during the evening cocktail period.

F&B Brasserie on 3 is the hotel’s spacious all-day dining restaurant, offering a comprehensive breakfast buffet, and à la carte lunch and dinner menus. The restaurant bakes its own breads, and tables are well spaced to give an airy, relaxed feel. I ate a delicious evening meal here, with service from the waiting staff of a very high standard for what is usually the least “high end” of a hotel’s culinary venues.
China Blue by Jereme Leung is a signature eatery, offering a “modern Chinese dining experience”, curated by the celebrity master chef, that incorporates “contemporary cooking techniques with local flair” in a classy environment. Three private rooms are available, and the ocean views are splendid.
The same can be said of C Lounge, located behind the front desk on the third floor. This long room is split into sections, from a cocktail bar to a wine tasting area and at the end a lounge where live music is played in the evening. Afternoon tea sets can be had, but sunset is the time to go and relax with a locally inspired cocktail as you gaze out over Manila Bay. At night it becomes a sophisticated bar/nightclub, and an alfresco area adds to the appeal.

LEISURE OPTIONS On the third floor, within the two curving wings of the hotel is the outdoor pool area, which has a beach resort feel, a large coral-shaped pool (it’s possible to swim “laps” of more than 30 metres – there are separate kids’ areas), sail shades over the decks and a pool bar serving drinks and light meals or snacks. Looking down on this from the third-floor mezzanine area is a large, comprehensive fitness room, which includes punch bags and other fitness options – personal trainers are on hand to help you use any of the equipment.
The Conrad Spa is on level 4, and has six single and couples treatment rooms with soaking tubs, a private sauna and steam facilities. A corner room offers massage chairs that can be used in conjunction with personal treatments.

BUSINESS FACILITIES There’s a total of 12 meeting spaces all boasting modern audio-visual technology, from two meeting rooms in the Executive Lounge to a series of large meeting halls on the third floor named after US presidents (Roosevelt, Harrison and Murphy). Two ballrooms include the larger Forbes Ballroom, covering 1,500 sqm, and the 460 sqm Taft Ballroom. An outdoor garden called The Veranda can also be used for events.

VERDICT It’s refreshing to see a luxury hotel that fully embraces a unique design concept. Too often new properties are homogenised to the point of blandness, but this certainly can’t be said of the Conrad Manila. Bold and attractive in look and feel both inside and out, its location between the airport and downtown is a plus, its facilities and service standards are up to expectations for the Conrad branding, and the overall feeling of vibrancy makes this a great new top-end hotel option in the Philippine capital.

PRICE Flexible rate fees start from Php14,494 (US$309) for a bay view king deluxe room in mid-August.

CONTACT Seaside Boulevard, corner of Coral Way Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City 1300, Philippines; tel +63 2833 9999; conradhotels.com/manila

First look: Cathay Pacific A350

Cathay Pacific Airways (CX) celebrated the delivery of its first A350-900 aircraft – one of 22 on order for 2016 and 2017 – with a lavish event at Hong Kong International Airport last night.

New A350 aircraft in the hangar at HKIA

The gleaming aircraft, on display for media, VIPs and select Marco Polo guests in a HAECO hangar, features all-new in-flight products and is set to begin its operational life today on the Manila route.

The Airbus A350 is a new-generation aircraft, built largely from carbon fibre and packed with engineering and technological innovations that increase its operational efficiency by 25 per cent.

We have written extensively on the A350 before, but in brief, its highlights include:

  • A quieter environment, both inside and outside the plane
  • Vertical sidewalls for more shoulder space
  • Larger panoramic windows due to stronger carbon fibre construction
  • LED mood lighting that can simulate sunset/sunrise and all phases in between
  • Lower cabin pressure that equates to a 6,000-foot (1,829-metre) altitude rather than most planes’ 8,000-foot (2,438-metre) atmospheric environment

CX’s A350 will use a high-efficiency filtration system that changes the air in the cabin completely every three minutes. The plane is split into eight different temperature zones for better control, and the advanced avionics of the A350 mean better reliability and operational efficiency.

The A350s wings – each wing is the largest ever single piece of carbon fibre produced in the aviation industry – flex and adapt their shape in flight, and sport the most efficient aero engine on the market today: the Rolls Royce Trent XWB.

Distinctive A350 wingtips

“From an engineering point of view, this is like going from a double-decker bus to a high-performance sports car,” said Robert Taylor, CX’s head of the A350 project.

Within the cockpit, the A350’s pilots benefit from military aviation technology with a heads-up display, and onboard computers have been reduced by 50 per cent due to technological advancements.

CX’s A350 will be a paperless aircraft – it will no longer need to carry 70kg of charts and maps because this will be available electronically. In the passenger cabins more than 30 digital magazines (including Business Traveller Asia-Pacific) will be available to view on the seat-back screens.

“This is a commercial aircraft that is as environmentally friendly as you can get,” said Rupert Hogg, CX’s chief operational officer.

In a first for CX’s fleet, the A350 will offer wifi connectivity for passengers – once the plane reaches 10,000 feet you will be able to log on to the CX Network and get connected for US$9.95 per hour, US$12.95 for a short-haul pass or US$19.95 for a long-haul pass.

The A350-900 will seat 280 passengers in three classes: 38 in business class (1-2-1), 28 in premium economy (2-4-2) and 214 in economy (3-3-3).

The new business class and premium economy seats have been designed by Studio FA Porsche. The sculpted seat shell of business class has been kept, but seat pitch is up from 43 to 45 inches, with the lie-flat bed remaining at 75 inches long.

Lie-flat business class seat

The ottoman and side bench above a storage bin are padded and become part of the bed area, meaning more space for feet and knees when sleeping on your side – a useful feature. Also very useful is a “Do not Disturb” and “Wake-up Call” feature, while the personal TV is now up to 18.5 inches in size.

Remote and seat control on a side panel, with noise-cancelling headphones tucked away

Premium economy seats have increased to 40 inches of seat pitch, nine inches of recline and the TV screen is up to 12.1 inches.

Premium economy product

Each seat gets a full-length integrated leg rest, and a nice touch are the retractable armrests in aisle seats to enhance space flexibility, meaning you can swing your legs to the side to allow a passenger out into the aisle rather than standing up. Personal reading lights at shoulder level are also well thought out, movable and dimmable so as to minimise disturbance for other passengers.

Common to seats in premium economy and economy are tablet holders – small drop-down shelves below the TVs on which you can place your iPad or other device should you wish to watch your own content. The IFE has been upgraded throughout too, with a more tablet-like user interface on the screens and a host of extra content.

In-flight entertainment screen with F&B sample

“We’ve spent the last three or four years sweating the details on our new suite of in-flight products, constantly thinking about the things, large or small, that make a difference to you when you travel,” said Hogg.

The new seat products are likely to be retrofitted to CX’s B777-300 aircraft, and the software upgrades will eventually be mirrored across the whole fleet.

“The A350 will make a positive difference to our customers, for the growth of our operations, for the environment and for Hong Kong,” concluded Hogg.

After familiarisation flights, the A350 will start operating a new Hong Kong-London Gatwick route on September 2 this year, with Dusseldorf the next European destination scheduled to receive the new-gen plane. As more of the 22 A350s on order are delivered, Australia and New Zealand are likely to be added to its repertoire, although Europe is the primary region of focus.

From 2018 onwards, CX also has 26 A350-1000s on order – the larger aircraft has an even greater payload and distance capability.

For more information, visit cathaypacific.com

Jeremy Tredinnick

First look: Cathay Pacific’s The Pier business class lounge

Seating area at The Pier business class lounge

The escalator next to Gate 65 in the northwest concourse of Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) gives no indication of the amount of work that has been going on down below in recent months.

Here, Cathay Pacific’s (CX) The Pier lounge has undergone extension work and a full refurbishment – it now occupies 3,306 sqm (around 1,000 sqm more than its previous incarnation), making it CX’s largest lounge, with seating for 550 people.

Lounge area

Design company Studioilse – which has overseen lounge design for CX in Bangkok, Taipei, Tokyo Haneda and most recently Vancouver (see here) – was tasked with turning this expansive space into an environment that relaxes, refreshes and engages travellers.

“Most users are travellers who are often jet lagged, so we wanted this lounge to be grounded in space, with sensitive use of lighting, plants and cherry wood,” said Ilse Crawford during a guided walk-round of the lounge.

“We thought about degrees of privacy, and broke the lounge into different spaces so you can find the level of privacy you want, the space that serves whatever time frame you have available.”

From the wide reception area, decorated with natural plant life and large wall-mounted artworks, you can turn right into either a locker area or The Bureau, which offers ten iMac computers and printers, as well as easy chairs with task lights.

However, the main lounge areas are to the left. The Pier is divided lengthways into “fast” and “slow” lanes, the former taking you through a range of F&B spaces on the left-hand side, the latter comprising a range of lounge seating between huge windows and glazed timber screens. A variety of chairs have been used, including comfortable solo swivel chairs that let you create your own sightline.

The design of the fast lane has an element of Hong Kong street life – or a luxurious version of it. You enter the Food Hall first, which has seating in booths and at attractive long tables for 100 people. A coffee cart is staffed by trained baristas, and there are self-service kiosks with a comprehensive selection of savoury dishes, sweet treats, tapas, salads, etc. The overall feel aims to be part food market, part deli – it’s certainly a clean, spacious area and the selection of morsels I tasted were excellent (as was my cappuccino from the cart).

Food hall

Move farther into the lounge and you enter the Bar, behind which two staff (trained mixologists and baristas) are ready to serve up cocktails, wine, coffee, etc – this is a far superior set-up than the self-service sideboards packed with bottles still found in some lounges. The seating area here is relaxed and convivial.

Bar

Next comes the Noodle Bar – CX’s signature lounge feature – which offers four choices of noodle soup and also a selection of dim sum offerings. I sampled the wonton noodles and har gow shrimp dumplings, and their freshness and authenticity proved why this concept has been so popular throughout CX’s lounges worldwide.

Beyond the Noodle Bar is the Tea House, specially conceived for this Hong Kong lounge. It is a quieter space, with lower lighting and more traditional Chinese furniture; here, ten core teas (plus one seasonal tea) are offered on an interactive menu that provides the opportunity to see and smell the teas before choosing. (Fresh fruit smoothies are also offered.)

Tea House

At the far end of The Pier are the well-equipped shower rooms – 13 identical rooms plus a wheelchair-friendly room – and The Relaxation Room, which features 18 low loungers and other seating, all plushly upholstered. Low-level lighting creates a peaceful atmosphere where sleep is easily possible – there are useful touches as well, with universal plugs and USB ports under small shelves within easy reach, hooks to hang jackets and plenty of space for bags.

Studioilse’s Crawford says that there was a deliberate plan to make each section of the lounge slow you down as you enter farther inside, from the bustling grab-and-go Food Hall through the more relaxed Bar, the made-to-order Noodle Bar, the refined Tea House and finally the quiet solitude of the Relaxation Room. In all of this the lighting is of note; Crawford is not a fan of bright, harsh lighting: “I believe in ‘glow’ – it makes people feel good,” she says, explaining the great variety of lamps and muted bulbs used throughout the lounge. “I always say, ‘light the life, not the room’,” she adds.

Relaxation room

Also worth noting is that since The Pier’s refurbishment has resulted in a rise in quality of environment, this means an equal rise in level of service is required. This has been addressed by the sourcing of new providers and additional training for the personnel who staff the lounge. It all adds up to a very high-quality offering.

The Pier will operate from 5.30am until the last departure flight every day, and will be open to CX first and business class passengers, Marco Polo Club Silver and above members, all tier members who have earned lounge passes, and/or their friends and families, and Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members.

No official opening date has been announced, but Business Traveller Asia-Pacific was told The Pier will open within the next two weeks.

For more information visit cathaypacific.com

Jeremy Tredinnick

First look: Hyatt Place London Heathrow Hayes

Hyatt Place Heathrow Hayes bedroom

Hyatt will open the first UK property under its select-service Hyatt Place brand on May 18.

The 170-room Hyatt Place London Heathrow Hayes is located on the Uxbridge Road in Hayes, about a 20-minute drive from the airport and 5km from the Bath Road.

Business Traveller had a tour last week as it was being fitted out. The 12-storey building once housed the Heathrow Gate hotel but was vacant for several years before being renovated by Hyatt.

Reception is located on the first floor and, in line with the Hyatt Place concept, is open plan with a lounge, Coffee to Cocktails bar and 24-hour Gallery Market containing pre-prepared snacks and dishes for heating up. “Gallery hosts” multitask to check in guests and work across these areas.

Hyatt Place Heathrow Hayes

There is also a bright Gallery Café serving breakfast (pastries, fruit, yoghurt, juice and hot drinks included in the room rate; hot buffet including eggs cooked to order £13.50) and dinner.

Rooms start from 27 sqm for Standard Kings and Twins, many of which also have sofa beds, with 42-44 sqm Corner suites featuring a separate working area. Decorated in blue, cream, red and grey, they feature London-themed artwork, free wifi, LG flatscreen TVs, blackout blinds, tea and coffee facilities, fridges, good-sized workdesks, safes, iron/ironing boards, robes, walk-in showers (plus baths in suites) and Barney Kenet toiletries.

Rooms on upper floors offer good views of the surrounding areas, with some of London’s landmarks visible in the far distance. The property also has 192 sqm of meeting space and a 24-hour gym with Life Fitness equipment.

Hyatt Place Heathrow Hayes

General manager Sarru Swanni said that she expected the hotel to attract not only people using the airport but business travellers visiting offices in Stockley Park business estate (6km away) and leisure guests visiting Wembley Stadium and other attractions in the wider area.

Hyatt Place was launched in 2005 in the US (see our Special Report, 2009), where there are now 205 hotels under the brand.

The first European property opened near Amsterdam Schiphol airport in 2014, with the UK hotel being the second.

The next to launch on the continent will be Zurich airport (see news, March 2012) and near Frankfurt airport (see news, March 2016) – both are due in 2018.

Guido Fredrich, Hyatt’s regional vice-president for acquisitions and development, said the group had further plans to expand in Europe.

He said: “The first ones in Europe just happen to be airport hotels or in locations surrounding airports. In complete honesty, though, that wasn’t so much a strategy. We think it worked out well because it increases [the visibility] but the next step now has to be to focus on city-centre locations in the UK and in Europe at large.

“We’re very ambitious, we have high expectations for the brand and we think there is a lot of potential throughout Europe, especially in the UK. We’ll be looking at cities such as Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham. In Germany, most of the major cities could do with one. We think it’s a great brand and because of the quality and the flexibility it provides, we think Europe can support quite a number of properties.”

He added: “We’ve got a few strong projects in the pipeline. We’re very excited and I think you’ll see the brand grow exponentially in Europe over the next couple of years.”

londonheathrowhayes.place.hyatt.com

Michelle Harbi

First look: Madera Hollywood

BACKGROUND Opened in March this year, this is the second Madera property in Hong Kong, owned by Hip Shing Hong (Holdings) Co Ltd. A small, all-suite boutique hotel, it offers long-stay discounts and is positioned to span both the hotel and serviced apartment sectors.

WHERE IS IT? In a prime location in Central district’s Soho area, on Hollywood Road between Lyndhurst Terrace and Peel Street. The Mid-Levels Escalator is only 150 metres away, and the hotel is surrounded by a fantastic range of eating and drinking establishments.

WHAT’S IT LIKE? The front of the hotel sports an enormous 10.9-metre-high mural featuring Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Frank Sinatra. A ground-floor shop area may become an entrance lobby for the hotel, but for now you catch the lift to the third floor to check in.

This is done in the Hollywood Lounge, a cosy space that feels like a living room – though one that has been decorated imaginatively, with black-and-white geometric tiled flooring, wingback armchairs around a faux fire, and memorabilia mounted on the walls.

The Hollywood Lounge

Charlie Chaplin’s cane is framed above the mantelpiece – and it’s genuine. The hotel owners bought a large amount of Hollywood memorabilia at auctions over a period of time, including Chaplin’s bowler hat, original publicity shots and photos of Marilyn Monroe, and vintage posters of old movies. These are spread throughout the hotel and its rooms.

The Monroe Suite

SUITES The Madera Hollywood’s 38 suites are fitted out in “Hollywood Regency style”, which means décor is lavish but clean and playful in its design. There are six categories of suite: deluxe, premier, grand deluxe, grand premier… plus two signature suites with their own designs – the Monroe and Chaplin suites.

All the suites feature huge flatscreen TVs, brightly coloured furniture, thick rugs and wooden flooring, as well as well-designed kitchenette areas with a microwave, built-in washer-dryer and fridge. Of note is the large amount of natural light that streams in through the broad windows – surprising given the location in such a built-up area. (The higher floors also have great views.) This gives the suites a feeling of spaciousness – although they are not small by any means, ranging from 54 to 70 sqm in size.

The beds are large and firm, with high-quality linen, but the bathrooms deserve special mention, with huge rainforest showerheads in the walk-in shower areas, and plenty of space to move around.

Handy smartphones are also provided in all the suites, and of course wifi is available for free.

The Chaplin Suite

F&B There is currently no restaurant or bar within the hotel – although guests can relax in the Hollywood Lounge at any time for free coffee/tea and snacks. The lack of a restaurant or bar is not really an issue given the plethora of options within a few hundred metres of the hotel in Soho.

LEISURE FACILITIES A good-sized gym takes up the fifth floor and offers a wide range of Technogym-branded machines as well as free weights.

VERDICT A pleasantly original themed design, superb location and spacious suites that are enjoyable, practical and comfortable make this a great new offering for the central Hong Kong area.

PRICE Internet rates for a Deluxe suite in mid-June start from HK$1,980 (US$255) including taxes.

CONTACT 53-55 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong; tel +852 3913 2888; maderagroup.com/hollywood/en

Jeremy Tredinnick

 

First look: The Olympian Hong Kong

The Olympian Hong Kong, a 32-room boutique hotel targeted at the luxury segment, opened in West Kowloon last week.

Business Traveller Asia-Pacific was invited to take a tour of the new property.

Hotel entrance

The Olympian Hong Kong is the latest property by Sino Hotels, the hospitality management arm of Sino Group that is also behind the likes of The Fullerton Singapore, Island Pacific Hotel in Hong Kong and The Pottinger Hong Kong.

Located just a three-minute walk from Olympian MTR station, the hotel is a short train ride from Central and Kowloon stations. It is also situated close to the business and retail hub of Tsim Sha Tsui, as well as the Airport Express Kowloon Station and the China–Macau Ferry Terminal.

The Olympian Rolls Royce limosuine

Being a small property allows the hotel to provide its guests with “more personalised and tailor-made experiences”, says Samson Lam, group director of marketing at Sino Groups of Hotels. Chief among these is the hotel’s Rolls Royce limousine service, which provides complimentary airport transfer and chauffer service for all guests, plus an in-room check-in service hosted by the Guest Relations Ambassador.

Elegant lobby area

Upon entering the hotel, a grand chandelier (touted as one of the largest in Hong Kong) dominates the main lobby. The multi-tiered feature emphasises the feeling of luxuriousness while making the modestly-sized space appear larger than it really is. Meanwhile, soft lighting and comfortable, elegant chairs help to create a welcoming environment for guests to relax in.

Second floor corridor and social seating area

The boutique hotel comprises just two floors, with all 32 guestrooms located on the second floor (accessible via escalator or lift).

An extended hallway encircles the second floor, providing another social seating area, which overlooks the main lobby. Designed with a “contemporary residence concept”, it features a mix of plush sofas and cushion seats in shades of cream and beige.

There are three different accommodation categories – Deluxe Olympian Room (43 sqm), Grand Harbour View Room (60 sqm) and Olympian Suite (75 sqm). All guestrooms feature 3.3 metre high ceilings as well as floor-to-ceiling windows, ensuring an abundance of natural light while maximising views over the famous Victoria Harbour and city skyline.

Grand Harbour View Room

The décor features a blend of modern and traditional themes to create an exclusive yet cosy ambience. Hardwood floorings and plush velvet furnishings create a sense of modern luxury, while oriental touches such as the artistic representations of the Chinese character for “double happiness” and historical images of old Hong Kong give the property a sense of place.

Business travellers will appreciate the generous number of charging ports and power outlets in each guestroom, plus the availablitiy of a Handy smartphone, which delivers connectivity and free international calls to select countries.

Each room comes with a 55-inch LED TV, a small kitchenette, coffee-making facilities, and complimentary Fiji-branded water. A minibar is also available with purchasable snacks and drinks.

A king-sized bed is provided in each room, with double singles on request. The linens are made of Egyptian cotton with a pillow menu available on request.

All bathrooms feature bathtub and rain shower facilities. Both the Deluxe Olympian Room and the Grand Harbour View Room come with Acca Kappa bath amenities, while the Olympain Suite sports Bvlgari products.

Private lounge on the second floor

All guests have access to a private lounge area where breakfast is served. This consists of organic eggs, seasonal fruits and premium-roasted coffee. Cooked-to-order local and international fare is also available around the clock.

The seating area of the lounge also features magazine racks and productivity booths for working. It has to be said that both in terms of design and layout, the lounge bares a striking resemblance to one of Cathay Pacific’s airline lounges.

Fitness centre

The hotel offers a fully equipped fitness centre and all guests are also provided with a jogging map at check-in, with tips on where to run around the attractive West Kowloon vicinity. A self-service laundry room is also available.

To commemorate the opening of The Olympian Hong Kong, the boutique hotel is offering a special introductory room rate from HK$1,600 (US$206) per night, available until April 30. All prices are subjected to a 10 per cent service charge.

For more information, visit theolympianhotel.com/en

Clement Huang

First look: Emirates’ new business class seat

Emirates has unveiled its new business class seat at trade show ITB Berlin.

As reported last week (see news March 3), the carrier will fit the revamped seat onto its 170th B777 aircraft, which is due to be delivered in November.

The fully-flat seat features a larger TV screen, expanded personal meal table, improved lighting options and redesigned privacy panels, literature pockets, foot rests and show stowage areas.

Emirates new business class

Emirates new business class

Emirates is describing the new offering as “evolution as well as revolution” – cabin configuration will remain 2-3-2, and the total number of business class seats on the B777 will also remain at 42.

All newly delivered Boeing 777s after the arrival of the first aircraft in November will have these new seats on-board. The seats are manufactured by the United States based B/E Aerospace at their facilities in Ireland and North Carolina in the US.

These seats will not be retrofitted on other aircraft in the airline’s fleet, it is our understanding.

A short video showing the new seat can be seen below, or on our Flickr page here, and further photos of the new seat can be seen at the bottom of this article.

emirates.com

First look: Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900

Singapore Airlines SIA A350-900_ULR_SIA

Singapore Airlines has officially taken delivery of its first Airbus A350-900. The Star Alliance member has a further 66 on order, and expects to take delivery of another 10 this year with seven more to follow by mid-2017 (see here).

Speaking ahead of the delivery ceremony today, SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong revealed that the airline had a total of three A350 variants on order with Airbus – the standard version, ultra-long range version, and a regional outfit that is optimised for mid-haul operations.

Having taken the keys to its first A350, the SIA chief believes that the new aircraft will represent a “game changer” for the airline and open up new opportunities.

“The addition of the A350-900 exemplifies SIA’s longstanding commitment to operate a young and modern fleet,” said Goh during the delivery ceremony.

“The A350 will be a game-changer for us, allowing for flights to more long-haul destinations on a nonstop basis, which will help us boost our network competitiveness and further develop the important Singapore hub.”

Business Traveller Asia-Pacific flew on the A350 delivery flight from Toulouse to Singapore as a guest of Singapore Airlines. This is our report.

CABINS

Singapore Airlines has outfitted its first A350-900 with a three-class configuration that includes 42 seats in business, 24 in premium economy and 187 in economy. While Goh has confirmed that the airline will never say no to the possibility of installing a first class cabin in the future, the first batch of deliveries will all feature the same configuration mentioned above.

BUSINESS CLASS

The cabin products are near identical to those found in SIA’s newly fitted B777-300ER. Business class seats are arranged in a four-abreast, 1-2-1 configuration and split across two cabins. The first, located at the front, features 26 seats, while the one behind contains a further 16.

Seat dimensions are identical to those on the B777-300ER, with 28 inches of width and a pitch of 55 inches. The product itself can be turned into a full-flat bed but this requires manually flipping the seat over. Automation is limited to the comfortable “lazy-Z” and “sundeck” positions.

In-seat amenities include an 18-inch LCD monitor, vanity mirror, a “business panel” consisting of a full suite of connectivity ports, stowage space and reading light. In-flight wifi is also available, with the A350 debuting a faster connectivity service by Panasonic, instead of the ageing OnAir service seen on SIA’s A380s.

One key point to consider is that there are no overhead storage compartments along the centre aisles of the business class cabins. While this provides plenty of headroom for customers while making the cabin appear larger, customers planning on carrying large baggage should consider the window seats instead.

PREMIUM ECONOMY

Just behind business class is a comparatively small and intimate premium economy cabin, which features just 24 seats, arranged in a 2-4-2 layout across three rows.

Each seat is 18.5-inches, which is once again almost identical to those found on SIA’s B777-300ER. In comparison, the product found on the airline’s A380 has a 19.5 seat width but lacks the touchscreen connectivity found on the A350 and B777-300ER. The seat pitch is 38 inches.

We’ve reviewed this product multiple times before and have always been impressed by the added benefits that premium economy customers enjoy over their counterparts in coach. This includes a 13.3-inch HD touchscreen monitor (billed as the largest in this class of travel), free flow champagne, as well as SIA’s acclaimed “Book the Cook” service.

ECONOMY

SIA has decided to go for a comfortable nine-abreast, 3-3-3 seating arrangement for economy class on the A350, which ensures that each seat is a generous 18-inches wide. This, according to Dr. Kiran Rao, executive vice president of strategy and marketing at Airbus, is one of the competitive advantages that the company has over Boeing – which typically offers seat width of only 17-inches on its aircraft.

While identical in almost every way, the economy class cabin breathes plenty of character, courtesy of its different coloured seats. Adjustable leather headrests, touchscreen IFE monitors and a generous seat pitch help make long-haul flying in coach a fairly comfortable experience on SIA.

One of the new innovations that SIA will be pioneering on its A350 is the “Companion App” feature. Available across all three cabins, the new mobile application provides customers with the ability to choose their in-flight entertainment content prior to their flights in order to create a more personalised experience. Once onboard, passengers may connect their mobile device onto the IFE system, which will sync their preferences onto the screen and automatically play their desired entertainment content throughout the flight.

A350 PASSENGER COMFORTS

The operation economics of the A350 has been widely reported, with Airbus touting its 25 per cent fuel efficiency, as compared to other aircraft types of this size.

In terms of passenger comforts, the A350 boast a higher humidity onboard, equivalent to that found at an altitude of only 6,000 feet. In comparison, the onboard humidity on older generation aircraft are usually similar to those at 8,000 feet. This translates to a much more comfortable in-flight experience, said Rao, who also noted that customers wouldn’t feel as jetlag when travelling on the A350.

The A350 also benefits from quiet cabins, second only to that on the A380. In addition, mood lighting is available, which allows SIA to change the cabin atmosphere throughout flight, in keeping with the switching time zones.

Overhead compartments on the Airbus aircraft are also the largest on a commercial aircraft yet, with an Airbus representative telling Business Traveller Asia-Pacific that passengers would be able to fit up to five hand carry baggage in each compartment.

FLIGHT EXPERIENCE

CHECK IN

The check in process was unique as I arrived at the Airbus delivery centre at 1015. Two dedicated check-in lanes were located at the lobby level of the building and the process was quick.

Following the check-in process, I entered a weighing room, where I was weighed along with my carry-on bags. The reason for this was so that Airbus and SIA could calculate the total weight and test the fuel efficiency of the A350, ensuring that Airbus’ claim of 25 per cent less fuel burn was valid.

BOARDING

Boarding began at 1400, soon after the delivery ceremony of the aircraft had ended. I approached the boarding area, where a security and immigration checkpoint had been set up. Just like checking in, the security and immigration clearance check was quick and I boarded the aircraft at 1405.

THE SEAT

I was assigned seat 17K in business class, next to the window. Fully clad in leather, the first impression of the product leaves a very positive impression. SIA offers some of the widest premium seats in the industry, and its new business class product, with a width of 29 inches, is no different.

Each seat in business class comes with a large, soft cushion that acts as a very comfortable lumbar support. The 18-inch IFE monitor is located within arm’s reach of the seat but noticeably is not touchscreen. Instead, passengers may use the touchscreen controller located on the side of the seat to select their entertainment choices. I found the interface to be intuitive and easy to use.

Two compartments are located at the arm rest area and pop open at a push. The first is for the tray table while the other holds the noise-cancelling headset. The tray table is excellent – large and sturdy – perfect for any business traveller wishing to get some work done in the air.

Seat controls are located on the other side of the seat, and are responsive. Passengers can control everything from their seating position and reading lights. A “Do Not Disturb” button is also available, as well as one to request assistance.

Flanking the sides of the IFE monitor is a coat hanger, vanity mirror as well as a small storage area. Passengers seeking to store larger items can do so under their seat as well as the area next to business panel on the side.

The business panel features a power adaptor, along with two USB ports, HDMI out, and an iPod plugin. A reading light is conveniently located above the panel too. Meanwhile, the magazine rack is located at the front side of the seat, and this came with the latest issue of the Krisworld magazine and a safety card for the A350-900.

THE FLIGHT

Flight SIA8895 pushed back at 1430 to a warm farewell from the ground team at Airbus. The safety video began playing two minutes later with the animations having been updated to feature the new A350 aircraft.

The cabin crew began their pre-departure checks soon after, as the aircraft approached the runway. I was also handed a pair of socks, flip fops and eyeshades. We took off at 1447 and approached our cruising altitude approximately ten minutes later. The seatbelt signs were subsequently turned off and the crew began their in-flight duties.

A round of Bollinger Champagne was served to commemorate the special occasion, along with several canapés consisting of foie gras and smoked salmon. I found both to be excellent, though it should be noted that this isn’t part of SIA’s typical service offering in business class.

The service standards of the crew for flight SIA8895 has to be commended. I enjoyed the personalised service and the flight attendants were happy to engage in conversation.

Orders for the dinner service were taken at 1555, with the choice of turbot, beef or veal. I opted for the beef, which was served at 1645. This was served alongside a side of salad, foie gras, and lemon tart for dessert.

Unfortunately, the quality of the meal left much to be desired. The salad was bland, though the vinaigrette certainly did help, and the foie gras starter was OK but fell short of my expectation. The beef, on the other hand, was cooked perfectly and amazingly tender – however, the asparagus, mushrooms and baked potatoes were extremely overdone. The best part of the meal had to be the lemon tart, which was both sweet and tangy to taste. Overall, this was the weakest aspect of the flight – perhaps due to the fact that the meals were not prepared by SIA’s regular catering services in France.

Dinner service ended at 1800, and the cabin lights were dimmed accordingly to allow passengers to rest. I took the time to examine SIA’s Krisworld entertainment system, and was very impressed by the content available. Many of the latest movies that have just finished their run in theatres were offered, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Carol, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.

A test of the in-flight wifi service was also in order, and speeds were good. Speedtest measured a download bandwidth of 2.10Mbps while the upload speed was 1.17Mbps – perfectly suitable for light browsing and use of social media/instant messaging platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp.

When I began to get tired, a flight attendant helped me to flip over the seat, and laid the duvet and pillow provided on the bed. I slept peacefully for a good five hours, waking up approximately two hours away from Singapore. The quiet A350 cabin and mood lighting certainly helped with the sleep quality throughout the flight.

Breakfast orders were taken at 0820 local time, with the choice of either scrambled eggs or pancakes – I selected the former, which was served with a plate of fruits, yoghurt, pastry and condiments. The scrambled eggs were cooked to perfection and were amazingly soft and fluffy. The fruits were also excellent though the portion size seemed overly generous. Overall, breakfast service was very good and left little to complain about.

ARRIVAL

Descent was announced at 0918, with an arrival time of 0955. The plane landed in Singapore Changi Airport to a traditional water cannon salute, and approached the gate five minutes later.

VERDICT

SIA has always been renowned for its excellent cabin products and service. It now has a state-of-the-art new aircraft type to boot, and looks set to usher in a new level of air travel to even the most discerning customers.

For more information, visit singaporeair.com

Clement Huang

 

First look: Avani Riverside Bangkok enters the MICE arena

AVANI Riverside Bangkok

Minor Hotel Group’s upscale Avani brand was launched in 2011 to complement the overtly traditional, resort-style Anantara hotels with a more contemporary type of property for guests “who value the details that matter”. The Avani Riverside Bangkok Hotel is its latest incarnation, positioned directly behind the Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort in Thonburi district on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River.

A 26-storey, new-build property whose lower levels comprise a shopping mall and office space, the new 248-room hotel occupies the 10th-26th floors, and is notable for the superb river and city views that every room boasts, as well as a slew of events spaces that place this new Avani in direct competition with established Bangkok MICE favourites the Shangri-La and Centara Grand. Another plus for events planners is a covered walkway between the Anantara and Avani properties, meaning a combined offering of more than 650 keys covering a range of resort-style and modern business-style rooms and suites.

The hotel has already soft-opened and will be fully finished in April, and has immediately attracted prestigious clientele for meetings and events. “In March we are hosting a meeting of the Asian headquarters of Lufthansa (from Singapore), as well as a Louis Vuitton meeting, and also the Ford Motor Show exhibition,” says general manager Christian Hoechtl.

The main events spaces are located on the 10th floor, and include a Grand Ballroom that boasts almost 4,500 sqm of pillarless space catering to as many as 1,500 people for product launches, corporate events and conferences. It can be separated into four spaces, and skylights flood the huge area with natural light – this is the tallest ballroom ceiling in Bangkok at 11 metres high. On one side is a unique open-plan show kitchen where delegates can watch the chefs work, while a car lift (6 x 2.6 x 2.2 metres) with a weight load of 3,000kg gives direct access to the ballroom.

The pre-function spaces and side meeting rooms (27 in total) are equally spacious, featuring fantastic river views and a panorama of the downtown city skyline beyond through floor-to-ceiling windows (you can choose to have a sunrise or sunset meeting in either. Being a brand-new hotel, all event facilities offer state-of-the-art audiovisual technology, but the Avani prides itself on its personal touches as well. Five coffee stations in the pre-function areas offer a more relaxed, “kitchen pantry” atmosphere, says Hoechtl.

“Two large counters serve as buffets where fresh pastries and savoury dishes are attractively displayed. Guests can walk around them to shelves and tall fridges displaying healthy sandwiches, fresh fruit juices and other beverages, which they can take as they wish,” he says. “The stations themselves feature coffee and tea machines and we do serve the customers, but there is more of a relaxed, residential feel. There are no old banquet tables dressed up with linen or makeshift coffee machines in the corner.”

Guestrooms at the Avani Riverside Bangkok Hotel are stylishly minimalistic and tech-savvy, the focus being on the grand views through the windows. On the roof is an infinity pool as well as Attitude Bar & Restaurant, offering great potential as a post-event party venue. The potential downside of the hotel’s location in Thonburi, some distance from the city centre, is offset by 15-minute complimentary shuttle boat transfers to Saphan Taksin BTS station near the Shangri-La hotel – and the overall benefits of the Avani’s location, highly competitive pricing and venue options make it an attractive new package for business travellers and event planners in Thailand’s capital.

For more information, visit avanihotels.com

Jeremy Tredinnick