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BRIEFING FOR AUGUST 5-AUGUST 19, 2010
By Joe Brancatelli
· U.S. Hotel Chains Expanding Fast Overseas
· Delta Makes Big Moves at Two New York Airports
· Hilton Gives Its Top Elites Free Internet Worldwide
· Mexicana Goes Bust and 'Suspends' Ticket Sales
· 'Registered Traveler' Returns ... In Indianapolis · Marriott Opens Its Second Hotel at Atlanta Airport
· Singapore Airlines Wants Paperless In-Flight Cabin
U.S. Hotel Chains Expanding Fast Overseas
Faced with a bearish market at home, where low nightly rates and miserable financial conditions have stressed overextended property owners, the major U.S. lodging chains have set their sights on faster expansion overseas. The international markets look promising because many parts of the world are under-represented with chain properties and overseas economies are expanding more rapidly than ours. Which is a long-winded way of explaining that virtually all of this week's hotel news involves international openings. For example, Marriott opened a 264-room JW Marriott in Bogota, Colombia, and a 155-room Courtyard by Marriott in Bremen, Germany. (The Bremen property is carved out of the Lloyd Building, an early 20th century structure used for luggage storage by a major German shipping firm.) Meanwhile, Hilton has opened a 320-room hotel at Terminal 3 at Beijing's Capital Airport. And Starwood has had a very busy week, opening resorts in Greece (a 445-room Westin on the Ionian Sea) and Thailand (a 261-room Westin in Phuket) and two properties in India. The first Indian hotel is a 130-room Aloft in Chennai on the OMR, the city's high-tech corridor. The other hotel is a conversion of the 240-room Rockwood Palace in Udaipur; the property's new name is the Sheraton Udaipur Palace.
Delta Makes Big Moves at Two New York Airports
We covered the disproportionate impact of the New York aviation market a few weeks ago. Now Delta Air Lines is making its moves at both LaGuardia and Kennedy Airport. At LaGuardia, where it controls Terminal D, the airline has announced a huge upgrade of its dining facilities. Delta has hired the same company that created the food options at JetBlue Airways' much-praised JFK Terminal 5 to convert the terminal's current mishmash of fast-food options. Starting later this month, a year-long project will bring in several full-service restaurants with name-brand chefs, at least two new designer pizza joints, a wine bar and an upscale grab-and-go food court. Over at Kennedy, the airline and the airport operator are about to announce plans for Delta to vacate Terminal 3. You know Terminal 3, the old, dark, ugly, round, outdated building that used to be called the Pan Am Worldport. According to the new plan approved today (August 5), Delta will move its international flights to a $1.2 billion expansion of Terminal 4. Terminal 3 will be demolished and Delta will continue to run its domestic flights out of Terminal 2. The renovation is due to begin later this month and take at least two years. Marriott has opened its second property at Atlanta/Hartsfield Airport. The Marriott Gateway is adjacent to the Georgia International Convention Center and connected to the airport by the SkyTrain.
Hilton Gives Elites Free Internet, Starwood Revamps Credit-Card Deal
Long after Hyatt, Marriott, InterContinental and Starwood moved to free Internet access for some elite customers, Hilton is falling into line. Effective September 1, all Gold and Diamond Hilton HHonors members will receive free Internet at all Hilton Family properties worldwide. That is a leapfrog over its competitors since not all of them offer the perk at every property in their respective systems. Until now, HHonors elites could choose complimentary Internet as a My Way amenity. Now they'll get the Net free and can choose other amenities instead. Starwood Preferred Guest has shuffled the perks that go with its much-admired American Express Card and raised the price, too. The new perks include five nights of credit toward SPG elite status and a free third night at participating Sheraton properties when you book a two-night stay. The new benefits are effective October 14, when the annual renewal fee rises to $65 from its current $45.
Battling With Unions, Mexicana Goes Bust and 'Suspends' Ticket Sales
Things are very weird at Mexicana, one of Mexico's two legacy carriers. Last week, creditors successfully grounded three of its aircraft, two in Canada and one in Chicago. The Oneworld Alliance airline began this week demanding that its labor unions immediately accept 40 percent salary cuts. (Mexicana's unions signed concessionary contracts in 2006.) When the labor unions refused and suggested negotiations, Aeromexico on Tuesday (August 3) sought bankruptcy protection in both the United States and Mexico, but claimed that it would continue flying normally. Yesterday (August 4), however, Mexicana "suspended" ticket sales, although it pledged to keep flying its schedule for passengers who had already booked seats. Booking away from this train wreck of a carrier makes the most sense just now. Things are almost as crazy at Gol, Brazil's largest carrier by market capitalization. It has cancelled a large number of flights and delayed most of the rest of them for the last few days. Gol officials blame a new software program, but the carrier's employees claim the airline continues to expand rapidly without adding staff. The existing workers have scheduled a strike for next Friday, August 13.
It Came From Beyond the Grave! Registered Traveler 'Lives' Again
Alert the zombie flyers. The not-dead-yet registered traveler programs begin again. A company called iQueue says it will roll out at Indianapolis Airport beginning on August 16. Membership starts at $119 a year. But it is worth noting that iQueue is not guaranteeing a separate approach to security checkpoints and can't even guarantee that iQueue membership will be honored by other registered traveler programs at other airports. Okay, there are no other registered traveler programs at other airports yet, but Clear claims it's coming back soon, too. You may have seen a lot of coverage this week about the "revelation" that the new full-body-image machines being deployed by Transportation Security Administration can, indeed, store your naked images. And this surprises you why? The machines have always had image-storage capacity. After all, they are computers. Besides, only a fool would trust the TSA when it said that it wouldn't use the capability. If this bothers you, decline to use the full-body machines and insist on a pat-down instead. It's your right to do so.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
SkyWest, the big commuter carrier, is buying ExpressJet, a commuter line that operates for Continental and United Airlines. You may remember that ExpressJet recently tried to run an independent carrier called XJet. That lasted about an hour, give or take Singapore Airlines says it will test a "paperless" cabin. Its goal? Eliminate printed copies of its in-flight magazine, in-flight entertainment guide and product catalog. The airline says it can save $440,000 a year for every 25 pounds it can offload from its aircraft. Eventually, SIA says that it wants to eliminate printed menu cards and the newspapers and magazines it offers during a flight. It hopes all of the paper can be replaced by its in-flight electronic entertainment system.
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.