The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
The Business Travel Briefing for August 9-23, 2018
The briefing in brief: More hotel competition at Chicago's McCormick Place. Aeroplan courts and condemns Air Canada. Hyatt and Marriott play musical hotels in Athens. A diplomatic spat between Canada and Saudi Arabia cuts airline routes. Changes at California airports.

And Now for Something Completely Different: Good News About McCormick Place
No one who's ever been forced to do a trade show or convention at Chicago's McCormick Place has much good to say about the sprawling, four-building complex. The neighborhood is iffy, parking is impossible, the public transportation is streaky and the 2.6 million square feet of exhibition space and supporting venues are uninspired. Neither of the adjacent hotels--an aging Hyatt Regency and a newer Marriott Marquis--are much to write home about, either. But now Hilton has entered the fray with a three-brand complex that will at least inject more competition into the lodging fray. Located at the corner of South Michigan and Cermak, the 23-story building is connected to McCormick Place via pedestrian skyway. Unlike the Marriott and Hyatt, which fancy themselves as four-star, full-service hotels, the Hilton entries are focused on its three-star, limited-service brands. The new tower houses a 184-room Hilton Garden Inn, a 187-room Hampton Inn and a 95-unit Home2 Suites. There's a 24-hour fitness center and indoor pool, an around-the-clock business center and a full-size Starbucks cafe. A street-level brewpub and a rooftop dining room and cocktail lounge are scheduled to open in the fall.

Aeroplan Repositions While Simultaneously Courting and Condemning Air Canada
The owner of Aeroplan, Air Canada's current frequent travel plan, rejected a C$325 million buyout offer from the airline and its banking partners. But now the really interesting stuff begins. (BTW, the background: Air Canada spun off Aeroplan in 2002 and recently announced it would leave and begin a new plan in 2020.) The current chief executive of Aimia, a data firm that is the largest shareholder in Aeroplan, has said it wouldn't consider selling the frequency plan for anything less than C$450 million. But this week Mittleman Brothers, a New York investment house and the largest stakeholder in Aimia, claimed the rejected Air Canada bid was "misleading, coercive, and blatantly inadequate." Mittleman wants Aimia to hold out for C$1 billion and a 20 percent premium. Meanwhile, Aeroplan said it would add at least three airline partners after Air Canada departs. All three--Porter, Air Transat and Flair--are secondary competitors (at best) in the Canadian market. Aeroplan says it's also courting Oneworld Alliance, which hasn't had a major presence in Canada since 2000, when Canadian Airlines was absorbed by Air Canada.
      Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards are likely to lose the SLS Las Vegas complex any day now. The money-losing, 1,000-room operation, opened in 2014 as a replacement for the Sahara, was due to depart SPG last month. For the moment, however, Marriott's brand names are still on the buildings. The SLS part of the resort operates as a Tribute Portfolio property. Another piece operates as a W Hotel.

Notable Changes at California Airports
Ontario International, which lives in the long, long shadow of LAX, has at least upgraded food-and-beverage operations. Delaware North, a large airport-concession operator, has opened two new dining options. A brewpub called Cross Grain sells local craft beers and offers a full menu. A European style bakery-cafe called Harvest & Grounds serves beverages from Klatch Coffee, which operates coffeehouses in Ontario, San Dimas and Rancho Cucamonga.
      San Jose, which exists in the long, long shadow of San Francisco International, is getting another flight to a Delta hub. Effective November 15, Delta will operate a daily Boeing 737 flight to its Detroit/Metro hub.
      Oakland loses its four daily Delta flights to LAX. Delta is pulling out of the route in the crowded California Corridor on October 1.

Hyatt and Marriott Play Musical Hotels in Athens
Even given tragic seaside wildfires that have claimed more than 90 lives this summer, Greece's crucial tourism business has been rebounding smartly. The recent upturn--inbound travel is up 11 percent in the past year--has led to an influx of investment to reinvigorate the lodging landscape of Athens, the country's capital and the starting point for all things touristic in Greece. In recent weeks, Marriott reentered the Athens market for the first time in almost five years. Thanks to a multi-million dollar renovation, the former Metropolitan Hotel on Syngrou Avenue has emerged as the 341-room Athens Marriott. Meanwhile, the former Marriott in Athens reopened this week as a 309-room Grand Hyatt. Once also known as the Ledra, it closed in 2016 and remained empty until new owners purchased the property at auction and renovated it. The Hyatt is also on Syngrou Street, 1.6 miles from the current Marriott.
      Hyatt is also gaining and losing internationally. A 138-room Hyatt Place has opened in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. But the chain's much-admired beachfront resort in Goa, India, the 252-room Park Hyatt, has been taken over by new owners. Effective September 19, it will be rebranded as the ITC Hotel, an Indian chain that tends to place its properties into the Luxury Collection, one of the Marriott soft brands. Hyatt does retain management of two other hotels in Goa, however.
      Saudia, the national airline of Saudi Arabia, has suspended flights to Canada. It's part of a nasty diplomatic squabble between the Saudis and the government of Canada, which has criticized human-rights violations in Saudi Arabia.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
New York City has hit Uber and Lyft with a hard cap on the number of vehicles they can operate within the five boroughs of the nation's largest city. After prodding from New York mayor Bill DeBlasio, the City Council overwhelmingly decided that Uber and Lyft would not be issued new licenses for at least the next year. The council also established pay standards for ride-hail drivers.
      InterContinental Hotels has added new hotels in some exotic locales. A 459-room InterContinental has opened on Phu Quoc Island, a Vietnamese possession off the coast of Cambodia. On the other side of the world, and the lodging scale, IHC also opened a 100-room Hotel Indigo in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Separately, InterContinental has remade a Holiday Inn on Bloor Street in Toronto into a 188-room Kimpton Hotel.

This column is Copyright © 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright © 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. 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.