Portuguese ATC Strike Set To Cause Disruption

Travel disruption is expected this weekend as air traffic controllers from Portugal’s air navigation services provider, NAV, prepare to step up their strike action.

Airline passengers travelling to or from Portugal this weekend should be prepared for delays and cancellations as the nation’s air traffic controllers begin three days of strikes. The workers are planning intermittent, two-hour strikes throughout Thursday, with a 24-hour strike planned for Friday, meaning that the disruption continues into the weekend.

The planned work stoppages are the latest action taken by air traffic controllers in an ongoing protest against government plans to cut salaries and restructure the sector as part of Portugal’s economic austerity plan.

The strikes will hit the flight plans of many of Europe’s major airlines, including Ireland-based Ryanair, considered to be Europe’s largest no-frills carrier, which has confirmed a number of flight cancellations due to the disruption. The action has caused the airline to call on the European Commission to remove the right to strike from air traffic controllers in Europe, to bring them in line with most of Europe’s police forces and army personnel, and air traffic controllers in the USA.

Ryanair’s Stephen McNamara said, ‘The summer schedules in Europe are just weeks’ old and already the Portuguese air traffic controllers will be engaging in three days of strikes. The solution to this problem is simple, remove their right to strike in exactly the same way that air traffic controllers in the USA are prevented by law from striking.’

In a statement, the British Foreign Office said, ‘Disruption to flights to and from Portugal on these dates may be experienced as a result. Travellers are advised to contact their travel company or airline for further information.’

Marriott Announces 250th Asian Hotel

Marriott International, an American-based worldwide operator and franchiser of a broad portfolio of hotels and related lodging facilities, has announced its 250th hotel in Asia.

The milestone property is located in Bo’ao, China and is part of Marriott’s 129 open hotels and 121 development projects on the Asian continent. When completed, the properties will provide 75,000 rooms across 15 countries. Marriott International operates seven brands across Asia – The Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, Bulgari, Renaissance, Marriott Hotels & Resorts, Courtyard and Marriott Executive Apartments, providing a broad range of accommodation options from luxury to mid-scale.

Simon Cooper, Marriott International’s president and managing director for the Asia Pacific region said, ‘We are delighted to have reached 250 hotels in Asia and are looking forward to continued growth in the region. We are seeing growth across all countries in Asia and in the past few weeks have signed landmark hotels in key locations including Macau, Vietnam and India. We continue to see excellent growth in China where we now have more than 100 open and signed hotels, and expect to open on average one hotel a month in the country for at least the next three years.’

Cooper added, ‘We see this as a golden age of travel around the world, and our Marriott hotels will be there to welcome all travellers, domestic and international. In the process, we are opening doors to a world of opportunity for our guests and associates alike, by offering great careers to our associates in China and across Asia, while delivering rewarding guest experiences across our growing brand portfolio.’


Airlines Lure Passengers With Technological Gadgetry

In an age that is dominated by computer wizardry and the common expectation of immediate contact and interaction with ones social group, however far distant they might be, it is only to be expected that airlines will lure passengers with the promise of better, snazzier gadgets to play with during long, boring flights.

Hot on the heels of Virgin Atlantic Airways announcing that it will allow in-flight mobile phone calls, and British Airways already allowing text messaging on flights, smaller airlines are also cashing in on their passengers’ addiction with all things electronic.

One prime example is the announcement by Scoot, the low-cost subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, that it will be providing its customers with in-flight entertainment via I-pads, pre-loaded with popular films, TV shows, music and games. Passengers in the carrier’s business class cabin, ScootBiz, will have the use of a complimentary I-pad, while other passengers will have to rent them for around GBP11.50 per flight. Scoot eventually intends to provide on-board wireless Internet access, where passengers will be able to stream content from an on-board library, to their own electronic devices. This would be charged for on a pay per flight basis for economy passengers, but be provided as a complimentary perk for business class travellers.

Scoot are far from alone in their desire to provide the latest in in-flight entertainment, they are only a part of the current stampede to find the latest gizmos to blow their customers’ minds. This is good news for the technology industries, who will be only too keen to provide the airlines with ever more clever equipment to pacify the travelling hoards, in an arms race that is set to run and run, but probably not such good news for the traveller who just wants to sit back and enjoy a peaceful flight.


Doubletree by Hilton Announces New Properties in Doha

Hilton Worldwide, a global hospitality company and a subsidiary of The Blackstone Group, has announced two new hotels to be built in Doha, Qatar, under its Doubletree by Hilton Brand.

The two new hotels will be known as the Doubletree by Hilton Doha Al Sadd, and the Doubletree Suites by Hilton Doha, and both are expected to open in 2014. They are in addition to a further three Hilton Worldwide properties due to debut in Qatar within the next three years.

The smaller of the two is the Doha Al Sadd, which will be situated in Doha’s main business and commercial district and have 145 rooms. It will also benefit from a health club, an outdoor pool, two restaurants, a bar, two boardrooms, four meeting rooms and a business centre.

The larger, Doubletree Suites by Hilton Doha, will be located in Doha’s West Bay district. It will have 240 rooms, offering one, two or three bedroom accommodation in a fifty-two-floor complex. The hotel intends to cater for longer-term guests, providing them with a function room, four meeting rooms, two boardrooms, a business centre, a health club and spa, an outdoor pool, two restaurants and two bars.

The hotels will reportedly be managed by Al Ryyan Tourism Investment company, a part of Faisal Holding Company, with whom Hilton Worldwide has signed a management contract.

Hilton Worldwide’s investment in Qatar comes at a time when the country is seeing a dramatic increase in visitor numbers. These are mostly from the business sector at present, with numbers expected to grow still further as Qatar prepares to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022.


Malaysia Airlines Set to Join Oneworld

Malaysia Airlines, the government-owned, flag-carrying airline of Malaysia, is scheduling to join the Oneworld alliance by the end of this year.

The airline is to fine-tune its carry on baggage policy in the run up to its acceptance into the alliance. It is increasing the weight of the one carry-on luggage item that is allowed in economy class, from 5kg to 7kg, and increasing the allowance to first and business class passengers to two items, each of a maximum 7kg. Bags are restricted to maximum dimensions of 56cm x 36cm x 23cm, and in addition passengers will be allowed ‘a notebook/laptop or briefcase or a binocular bag’, as well as ‘a small handbag and walking stick.’

Despite the airline’s efforts to standardise its baggage policy for ease of integration with its new partners, there will still be disparity. For example, Cathay Pacific’s baggage policy states a limit of 7kg for economy and premium economy passengers, 10kg for business class passengers, and 15kg for those in first class. While British Airways’ policy advises travellers that their hand luggage may weigh up to 23kg, subject to the passenger being ‘able to lift the bag unaided into the overhead lockers in the aircraft cabin.’

Malaysian Airlines says that it has developed several codeshares with other Oneworld members, including Cathay Pacific and Royal Jordanian, in advance of it becoming a full member by the end of 2012.

Oneworld is a global airline alliance that was founded in 1999 by American Airlines, British Airways, Canadian Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qantas, under the slogan, ‘Oneworld revolves around you.’


Rio de Janeiro Tops Hotel Expense League

Sydney, Australia is no longer the city with the world’s most expensive hotel’s, having been eclipsed by the soaring cost of accommodation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In the first three months of 2012, the average price per night for a hotel room in one of the more picturesque areas of Rio was GBP192.88, representing a 50 percent increase on equivalent prices from a year ago. According to Hotel Price Radar, hotel prices in Sydney have only risen by 4.6 percent over the same period, with rooms now averaging just under GBP145 per night.

Hotel Price Radar cited Brazil’s economic growth and infrastructure improvements for Rio’s massive price increases, compounded by preparations for the 2016 Olympics.

From a Europe only perspective, Moscow retains its lead as the city with the most expensive hotels, with rooms averaging GBP122 per night. London room rates have risen by 4.33 percent and now average GBP100 per night, again influenced by the pending Olympic Games, though surprisingly, Liverpool is the UK city that has registered the biggest price increase, with rooms now averaging GBP71.57, up 12.55 percent on last year.

At the other end of the scale, Bangkok in Thailand, Prague in the Czech Republic and Beijing in China are the cities where the cheapest accommodation can be found, all with average prices of around GBP48 per night.

For the best value in five-star accommodation, Eastern Europe is the destination of choice according to Hotels.com, with luxury hotels in Warsaw, Poland charging just GBP84 per night, followed by Budapest, Hungary at GBP105, and Tallin, Estonia at GBP112.

Government Accused of Lack of Vision by Aviation Experts

The UK government’s lack of strategy and long-term planning for the country’s aviation infrastructure has been criticised by a panel of senior aviation experts at the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC) conference in Doha, Qatar.

At the core of the criticism is what the members of the panel see as the government dragging its feet on the urgent need to be building more airport capacity, and the fear that the rest of Europe and the world could sideline the UK if it failed to do so.

The chairman of the GTMC Air Working Party, and managing director of Horncastle Executive Travel, Peter Drummond said, ‘It’s incredible that the government does not understand the importance of airports, and has no long-term strategy. If we don’t get this on the agenda, the UK with its Victorian infrastructure will be sidelined.’ He went on to describe current government transport policy as ‘sticking bits of elastoplast over a gaping wound.’

Paul Johannesburg, vice-president of Qatar Airways, confirmed that he was seeing evidence that the UK was losing out on traffic from emerging markets, and the government’s lack of vision was already harming the UK economy.

Guy Stephenson, the Gatwick Airport chief commercial officer, said that there was very little coherence in government strategy, and that ‘raising aviation taxes while the Eurozone is going backwards is a toxic combination.’ He called on the air and business travel sectors to work with government. ‘We have to help the government sell a policy to the voters. We’ve got to try and create a positive climate and give government something positive to work with,’ he said.

Virgin to Offer Mobile Phone Calls In-Flight

Virgin Atlantic Airways, the UK-based airline operator, has become the first Britsh airline to provide access to mobile phone calls for passengers travelling on its new A330 aircraft, and has future plans to extend the service to its B747 aircraft.

Virgin Atlantic intends to have 20 aircraft fitted with the Aeromobile technology by the end of 2012, which will include B747’s that are currently undergoing AGBP50m refurbishment. Passengers in all cabins will be able to make and receive telephone calls, send and receive text messages and access e-mail and the Internet.

Customers choosing to use the service will be charged according to their individual provider’s international roaming rights, though this is currently restricted to 02 and Vodafone with whom the airline has signed agreements, so passengers on other networks will not be able to use the service initially.

Other usage restrictions include no connection while the airplane is taking-off and landing, and in order to comply with Federal restrictions, the service has to be disabled within 250 miles of US airspace.

The idea of passengers using mobile phones while sitting in adjacent seats will undoubtedly be a matter of trepidation for a proportion of travellers who expect rest and relaxation during lengthy flights. How Virgin Atlantic intend to deal with the possible nuisance aspect of in-flight phone calls is not yet known.

Uk-based airline, British Airways does already offer air mobile phone technology on flights to New York from London with its A318 Club World City, but phone calls are currently disabled and only e-mails and text messages can be sent and received.

‘Holiday at Home’ Campaign Fails to Impress

According to a survey, the UK governments GBP3m investment in an advertising campaign to encourage British citizens to ‘Holiday at Home’ has not had the desired impact.

The campaign was intended to help boost the UK’s domestic tourism industry and the greater economy in what are difficult times financially, but the findings of a poll of over 2,000 adults carried out by YouGov on behalf of prepaid currency card provider, Caxton FX, infer that the message has failed to find its mark. Of those polled, two thirds or 67 percent still intend holidaying abroad this summer. 13 percent of people claimed not to have seen the adverts, and 4 percent of people said that the campaign had actually made them less likely to consider a holiday at home.

The most positive response came from the North East and North West regions, where 19 percent of those polled stated that they were now more likely to holiday in the UK. Scotland fared much worse, however, with 9 percent of Scots saying that the advert had made them less likely to take a UK-based holiday.

The managing director Caxton FX, James Hickman said, ‘In spite of substantial investment, it seems that Brits are still committed to holidays abroad and with the pound currently very high against the Euro, holidays abroad can offer good value – especially for those people who would prefer to avoid the Olympics this summer.’

The findings also come at a time when the unusually bad weather that has been sweeping the British Isles is likely to have impacted on the opinions of holidaymakers.

Air India Strike One Week On

A strike at Air India, the India-based, state-owned airline company, has now been running for seven days.

The airline continues to face major disruption to the fifty international flights that it schedules each day, as two hundred pilots continue to call in sick in protest at their perceived lack of training privileges. The industrial unrest will affect another thirteen international routes today. To date over fifty international flights have been cancelled, to many of the world’s major cities, including London. The action has lead to many passengers being stranded and Air India has now stopped taking international long-haul flight bookings until May 15.

The dispute is expected to cost the airline USD2m per day, a blow to an organisation that is already struggling financially, and which only recently received a USD6bn bailout package from the Indian government.

The dispute relates to the pilot’s assertion that there is a lack of training privileges for the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, compared to domestic route pilots. The airline has refused to recognise the Indian Pilot’s Guild, which is representing the striking airmen, as they did not give strike notice. This has resulted in a total of seventy-six of the pilots now having been sacked for failing to report for work, and the company’s management declaring the strike illegal and refusing to negotiate with the pilots unless they return to work.

A similar strike took place for ten days last year, and is thought to have cost the company in the region of USD3.3m.