The Tactical Traveler

FOR JULY 6, 1998


This week: Training yourself in Hong Kong; airline Web sites update; making lemonade from hotel lemons; best Honolulu convention center hotel; a London hotel bargain; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Training Yourself in Hong Kong
It's taken a decade and $20 billion, but Hong Kong's new airport is scheduled to open this week for commercial flights. Initial reports indicate Chek Lap Kok ( is a technological and architectural marvel. And while few will miss Hong Kong's old airport, dark, overcrowded and aeronautically difficult Kai Tak, Chek Lap Kok won't be nearly as convenient to Hong Kong's business districts. In fact, a cab or limousine ride from Chek Lap Kok will take upwards of an hour, a bitter pill for business travelers accustomed to the 15-minute proximity of Kai Tak. A better option could be the 25-minute express train that links Chek Lap Kok to Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the train has been plagued by appalling glitches in its early test runs. If you're planning a Hong Kong trip in the first few weeks of Chek Lap Kok's life, try using the train--but be prepared to switch to slower ground transportation if the rail link is still working out the kinks.

CYBERTRAVELER: Turning the Pages on the Airlines
A sure sign that the airlines are relying on the Internet to communicate with passengers is the frequency with which they now update their Web sites. The new site of American Airlines (, for example, is cleaner and easier-to-navigate than its predecessors. It also stresses the delivery of personalized information based on your American AAdvantage frequent-flyer account and your travel preferences. Meanwhile, the Northwest Airlines site ( has added a long-overdue feature: direct-to-your-mailbox notification of Internet weekend fares and other special deals. You can sign up for the Email program at

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Lemonade from Hotel Lemons
One of the many downsides of the hotel buying sprees recently concluded by several REITs (real estate investment trusts) is that companies such as Starwood and Patriot American are stuck with lots of lemons. What do you do with hotel lemons? Try making lemonade by creating new brands from a grab bag of otherwise disparate properties. Starwood, for example, already owns Sheraton and Westin, but is also creating the St. Regis and W brands. The W brand will be slapped on a collection of non-descript Starwood properties, most of which were in desperate need of renovation. W hotels, Starwood claims, will be hip and cool--in other words, knockoffs of Ian Schrager's trendier-than-thou properties. Starwood also owns the "Luxury Collection," a mishmosh of CIGA hotels, former Ritz-Carltons, Sheraton's urban dowagers, and gems such as the St. Regis in New York and Phoenician in Phoenix. In place of the generic Luxury Collection name, Starwood will create the St. Regis brand, then market the chain as a competitor of Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons. Over at Patriot American, there are hundreds of hotels and only on recognizable brand, the Wyndham chain. So to organize the clutter, Patriot American is building the Grand Bay chain, which will include some former Carefree Resorts, a few hotels currently using the Grand Bay name, newly built properties, and the Golden Door spa. The gimmick here is that Grand Bay properties will have "Golden Door" branded spas and fitness centers on the premises.

JOE SENT ME: Houses Befitting Conventions in Honolulu
The Hawaii Convention Center opens in Honolulu this month and that will bring a wave of business travelers to a city totally geared to leisure travelers. Located outside Waikiki, the frenetic urban beach resort where virtually all of Honolulu's hotels are located, the Convention Center is bereft of lodging options. The only place in visual proximity is the Ala Moana hotel, a dreary property adjacent to Ala Moana Center, a massive shopping mall. Savvy travelers will be better off taking a brisk walk or a short cab ride to Halekulani, which loosely translates to "house befitting heaven." Such a lofty description is well deserved since the beachfront Halekulani (808-923-2311) is universally regarded as one of the five or six best hotels in the nation. Guest rooms are large and luxurious, the service is flawless, and the grounds are enchanting. Honolulu's best restaurant, "La Mer," is on the premises, as is "Orchids," Hawaii's power-breakfast venue, and "House Without a Key," the city's best spot for an after-work drink. Nightly rates start at $295. Need a more cost-effective option? Go across the street to the Waikiki Parc (808-921-7272), Halekulani's no-nonsense sister hotel. The rooms and service are nearly as good as at Halekulani and the Parc may be Hawaii's best-kept lodging secret. Its "Parc Sunrise Mountain" package costs only $137 a night and includes daily breakfast.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: London for Less
The "London Breakaway" package at the ten Radisson Edwardian hotels (800-777-7800) in and around London includes nightly lodging, all those onerous British taxes and service charges, and breakfast. Rates start at $176 a night, a bargain by the standards of today's London.

This column originally appeared at

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