The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for Early August, 2015
The briefing in brief: Delta keeps us guessing on private-jet upgrades. Kimpton loses seven of its nine hotels in San Francisco. A passenger tunnel to Toronto's City airport opens. India's hotel market collapses. The "sharing economy" does impact business travel. And much more ...
The Streets of San Francisco Get Nasty for Kimpton Hotels
Chris Barnett has covered the odd hotel scene in San Francisco, but this is weird even for the City by the Bay. Kimpton Hotels, the San Francisco-based boutique chain purchased by InterContinental last year, has lost seven of its nine hometown properties. In the last five weeks, Kimpton's original Monaco hotel was renamed The Marker. Kimpton's original Palomar Hotel has been renamed the Hotel Zelos. Also gone from the Kimpton chain are the Argonaut, the Harbor Court, the Triton, the Tuscan and the Prescott. The outflow represents 11 percent of the properties that InterContinental acquired when it snapped up Kimpton last December for $430 million. What's it all about? Unions. Unite Here Local 2 has the right to try to organize workers at InterContinental properties without interference from the London-based lodging giant. But the owners of the seven San Francisco hotels don't want their properties unionized, so InterContinental allowed them to leave Kimpton. The union is screaming bloody murder, of course, since the move does seem to violate InterContinental's eight-year-old pledge of "neutrality" on unionization efforts. For his part, InterContinental chief executive Richard Solomons shrugged off the loss of $6 million of annual licensing fees. "The San Francisco [hotels] were ones we identified as those that would possibly leave," he said during the company's second-quarter earnings call.
No, No One Has More Details on How the Delta Private-Jet Upgrade Will Work
Justin Bachman of Bloomberg News beat the world to the story that Delta Air Lines will offer private-jet upgrades to some elite SkyMiles flyers. But there aren't any other details. Delta posted a useless post on its News Hub blog after Bachman's piece ran, but otherwise the airline has been mum. And no one at the carrier I've contacted wants to (or can) fill in more details. The best guess? Delta will be using the scheme to fill seats on deadheading segments of its Delta Private Jets operation. One thing is clear: The upgrade fee--$300-$800 a segment, according to Bachman's story--won't cover the cost of any flights. The revenue Delta will raise, at least initially, is pocket change. But it might convince one of two of the upgraded flyers to use a private jet in the future. And, at least for the moment, flyers have stopped complaining about how useless the current SkyMiles program is.
More sun-destination hotels are available for award travel. Hilton has converted the mid-century Aruba Hotel designed by Morris Lapidus into the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort and Casino. Until recently a Radisson, it is pegged as a Category 9 redemption in Hilton HHonors. And Starwood Preferred Guest has another option in Bali, a Four Points hotel in Kuta. The 185-room property is a Category 2 redemption.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan has an intriguing new partner: Hainan Airlines, the privately owned Chinese carrier that has been expanding briskly in the United States. Miles flown on Hainan will qualify for Mileage Plan elite status and Alaska Air members will be able to use miles for award seats on Hainan later this year. Complete details are here.
Tunnel Your Way to Your Terminal at Toronto City Airport
Toronto/City Airport, the in-town facility best-known as the hub of Porter Airlines, has one downside: It's on an island and you could only get to it via a short, but annoying, ferry ride. But that's changed. A pedestrian tunnel opened this week allowing flyers to walk under Toronto Harbour to the terminal check-in desks. The C$82.5 million tunnel is about 800 feet long and has four moving sidewalks. Pedestrians on the city side enter a newly built pavilion, go down an escalator and use the walkways. Six minutes later, they emerge in the terminal building. Travelers who don't want to hoof it can still use the ferry.
Buffalo/Niagara airport has lost its only club lounge. American Airlines has closed the US Airways Club at the airport this week.
Lafayette, Louisiana, is losing its flights to Denver. A United Airlines commuter carrier had launched Lafayette-Denver service last August. Flights end on October 23.
Thai Airways Bails on U.S. Market and Ends Los Angeles Flights
Hemorrhaging cash and facing a U.S. investigation of safety standards in Thai aviation, Thai Airways is bailing on its last U.S. flights. Its Los Angeles-Seoul-Bangkok service ends on October 25. The Star Alliance carrier once flew to several U.S. points and briefly flew nonstop to both New York and Los Angeles using ultra-long-haul Airbus A340-500 aircraft.
Delta Air Lines is spending $450 million to acquire a 3.5 percent stake in China Eastern, its SkyTeam partner and owner of Shanghai Airlines. The irony? While Delta has led the charge against the Big Three Gulf carriers, claiming they are illegally subsidized, its investment in China Eastern makes it a minority player in China's most-subsidized airline.
United Airlines is shrinking the Guam hub it inherited from Continental Airlines, which operated the Air Micronesia service. On September 27, it drops flights to Cairns, Australia, and on September 30 it dumps flights to Seoul.
The India Hotel Market Is Looking Like a Lodging Nightmare
India and China were going to be the great global lodging growth markets of the early 21st century. China has certainly panned out--at least barring the impact of this month's stock-market meltdown. But India has been largely a bust, even though the entire nation of 1.2 billion people had no more hotels than the city of Orlando. "The hospitality industry is reeling owing to the general slowdown of the economy in India over the last few years," says Mandeep Lamba, an analyst for one of the subcontinent's major property-consulting firms. The numbers bear him out. Average room rates have dropped in the last two years and nightly occupancy rates have plummeted to around 60 percent from about 75 percent a decade ago. The market's collapse means around 100 announced hotel projects are stalled in various states of development limbo. That includes 30 hotels from Hyatt, 18 from Marriott and five from Starwood.
Hilton has added a slew of new properties in the last few weeks. Its Curio "soft" brand has three new outposts: the 278-room Reichshof opposite the main train station in Hamburg, Germany; the 50-room Anselmo in Buenos Aires and the 32-room Madison Beach Hotel in Madison, Connecticut. There are three new Hampton Inn branches: in Monroe, Louisiana; Hartsville, South Carolina, and Oregon, Ohio. And its Home2Suites division has two newbies: near the airport in Albany, New York, and in San Angelo, Texas.
Marriott has been busy, too, with new Fairfield Inn hotels in Atmore, Alabama, and Reading, Pennsylvania. Its Residence Inn chain has new branches in Durham, North Carolina, and Fairlawn, Ohio. There are new TownePlace Suites in Vancouver, Washington, and Bloomington, Minnesota. There are also two notable new Courtyard hotels: a conversion of the former St-Germain hotel in downtown St. Cloud, Minnesota, and a renovation of the circa 1929 Hotel Lennox, once the tallest hotel in St. Louis and currently on the National Register of Historic Places.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
How fast is the so-called sharing economy impacting business travel? Hard to say, but statistics from Concur, the expense-management firm that also produces the Tripit app, are eye-opening. Concur says its clients registered a fourfold increase in Airbnb bookings and a fivefold increase in Uber rides.
United Airlines admitted this week that its computers were hacked by the same Chinese operatives who hit government computers. United says the hack went unnoticed for a year. Which is no surprise considering most United passengers go unnoticed, too. And, of course, United has yet to notify any customers that their information has been taken.
Frequent international travelers take note: December 31 is the last day you can add pages to your passport. Beginning January 1, 2016, the State Department will require you to get a new passport instead. They'll be larger, containing 52 pages.
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