Passengers and taxpayers ‘winners’ in new Virgin Trains West Coast contract

Virgin Trains, a UK-based train operator and a subsidiary of the Virgin group of companies, has claimed in a release on its website that passengers and taxpayers are the winners after its signing of a deal with the UK’s Department of Transport to operate the West Coast rail franchise.

The new deal will see Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin company operating the West Coast franchise until March 2017, with an option of a one-year extension. In return, the company is promising thousands of extra seats each day, free superfast WiFi for all customers, new direct services planned from London to Shrewsbury and Blackpool, a rewards programme to add value for passengers, and payments to the taxpayer boosted by 58 percent.

2,100 net extra seats per day will be created by converting the First Class carriages of 21 Virgin trains to Standard Class. This will increase the number of Standard Class seats by 5,500 per day.

All 76 of Virgin’s Pendalino and Super Voyager trains will gain superfast Wifi, an innovation supported by rail authority, Network Rail, which intends to provide the necessary trackside infrastructure.

The new direct services from London to Shrewsbury and Blackpool are expected to commence from December this year.

With the customer reward programme, customers that book tickets via the Virgin Trains website or mobile app will be able to earn Nectar points on their purchase by the end of summer.

The contract will see the Department of Transport receive a guaranteed £430 million from Virgin during the contract period, a 58 percent increase per annum. The DfT will also receive up to 100 percent of additional returns generated by Virgin Trains.

Patrick McCall, Virgin Trains executive co-chairman, said: ‘We’re delighted to have reached a deal after some tough negotiations with the DFT. It puts the problems of 2012 firmly behind us, and shows the clear benefits of a well-run franchise system.’


Survey reveals Brits’ most popular holiday pastimes, pet peeves

British travellers are becoming increasingly reliant on smart-phones and tablets while on a holiday, and paying extra for Wi-Fi is now one of the top ‘holiday hates,’ according to a survey.

The poll by Thistle Hotels, a part of glh, an owner-operator hotel company in London with over 4,000 hotel rooms, questioned 2,000 people to understand their holiday habits and interests.

According to the survey, an average holidaymaker spends an hour online each day of their holiday, catching up with friends and current affairs. Nearly one in 20 admitted they would rather spend time online, than with their partners on holiday. Consequently, having to pay for Wi-Fi now ranks alongside traditional holiday annoyances, such as rude hotel staff and rooms not being ready on arrival.

The research, undertaken to launch Thistle’s new faster, free internet in all its UK hotels, revealed that the top five ‘holiday hates’ are, rude hotel staff (69 percent), rooms not being ready (45 percent), paying for Wi-Fi (38 percent), limited buffet/menu selection (37 percent), and not being as close to holiday attractions as advertised (32 percent).

The survey also found that while booking a holiday, fast, free and reliable Wi-Fi is more important (51 percent), than having a swimming pool (49 percent), or even having a TV in the room (37 percent).

Mike DeNoma, glh. CEO said; ‘It’s crazy to think that in 2014 hotel chains are still charging up to £20 a day for Wi-Fi. Our research shows that free, fast and reliable Wi-Fi is very important to holidaymakers, which is why we’ve partnered with BT Wi-fi to upgrade our existing free internet access. No registrations, no limitations and no fine print, customers can now simply click and connect without fuss or fee; and most importantly they do not have to sign up to memberships or earn loyalty points.’

Of the main hotel brands in the UK, the Hilton Hotel group charges between £14 and £20 a day for WiFi, Premiere Inn charges £3 a day, or £10 a week, but does offer an initial 30 minutes of free WiFi; IHG charges £14 a day across its leading brands. It also charges £3 a day or £13 a day at ‘Crown Plaza’.

Marriott offers free WiFi in its reception areas, but charge £15 a day for access in rooms across its major brands and £4.95 an hour, or £12.99 a day, at Marriott Courtyard. Marriott Gold and Platinum members receive free WiFi throughout premises and access is limited to six devices. Free internet is also included in Premium rooms and suites. Travelodge charges £5 an hour, £10 a day, £20 a week, or £30 a month for WiFi access.

Thomson and First Choice set to offer free Wi-Fi in all concept hotels

UK-based holiday company, Thomson and First Choice, will offer free Wi-Fi in all concept hotels, Travel Weekly has reported.

Starting May 1, Wi-Fi will be provided free of charge across 135 hotels in 42 destinations, with access available throughout the hotels, benefiting nearly one million holidaymakers. This includes Thomson Sensatori, Couples, Family Resorts, Scene and Gold hotels, as well as First Choice Holiday Village, SplashWorld, Club Magic Life and SuneoClub resorts.

The move comes after research involving Thomson and First Choice customers found that they valued free Wi-Fi over traditional hotel amenities like room service. Guests in family resorts rated Wi-Fi access to be almost as significant as having a quiet time and relaxing by the swimming pool.

The reesearch revealed that 60 percent of guests valued Wi-Fi and rated it as important to their overall holiday experience.

Product director, Mark Hall, said: ‘We know how highly people value Wi-Fi in hotels as a service and as such we will be offering free Wi-Fi throughout our exclusive hotel concepts at no extra cost to our guests.

‘Through research we’ve seen that Wi-Fi is an integral part of our customers’ holiday experience and that they want to access social media sites, keep in contact with loved ones at home and research the area they are staying in whilst away.’

According to a separate report by the BBC, travel company Tui, which owns Thomson and First Choice, said that the outlook for 2014 remained promising despite one-off costs and weak French demand in 2013.

The holiday operator added that trading for winter was on track, with 60 percent of its programme already sold, adding that it was ‘pleased’ with summer 2014 trading. Tui has now terminated unprofitable routes and reduced its long-haul programme.

Brits unaware of WiFi hotspots security risk

UK travellers are exposing themselves to the risk of identity theft when using open WiFi networks, according to new research.

The research by Experian Consumer Services is based on a consumer survey of 1,641 adults in the UK, and highlights the dangers of revealing personal information online when using unsecured WiFi hotspots.

According to the research, nearly half of all Britons using public WiFi hotspots have no idea whether the WiFi network is secure or open when they connect to it via their smart-phones, tablets or laptops. Over 30 percent said that they check the security of a WiFi network before connecting, while 50 percent of the respondents said that they do not understand whether a WiFi network is secure or open when they connect to it.

Adding to the vulnerability, over 58 percent of respondents’ mobile devices connect automatically to available WiFi networks, increasing their risk of identity theft.

In addition to the survey, a live test was conducted at six central London locations to assess WiFi network security levels. Across the six locations, 36 percent or a total of 322 WiFi Hotspots were totally insecure, giving ‘open’ accesses to possible online identity fraudsters looking to misuse unsecured personal information.

Peter Turner, managing director of Experian Consumer Services UK&I, said: ‘WiFi services and the vast choice of mobile devices are empowering us to live more of our online lives whilst on the go. Whilst this brings many advantages, we still need to be wary of any public unsecure WiFi hotspots. Think of them like you would a public phone call. You would not openly discuss something personal or private if you thought people were listening, so don’t say it with your laptop, tablet or smartphone. By being blase, we are all putting ourselves at risk of identity theft.’

The Experian WiFi Hotspots survey also found that most consumers do not know how to securely use WiFi hotspots, with 96 percent of mobile users accessing them without selecting the most secure settings on their mobile devices. Over a third of consumers, or 35 percent, said that they would not connect to WiFi hotspots due to trust concerns.

However, with the new web monitoring services, consumers can instantly be alerted to any fraudulent use of their personal information online, enabling them to identify and stop any suspicious activity. Experian also advises Brits to carry out online banking at home, turn off automatic connection to networks and not to use any apps if they are unsure whether they encrypt data.


Internet connectivity a key requirement for travellers

Being able to connect online with family and friends is now the top priority for travellers, new research from InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has revealed.

40 percent of the 10,000 business travellers who responded to the survey said that being out of contact was the biggest annoyance when travelling. The global research was commissioned to mark the launch of IHG’s renamed loyalty programme, IHG(R) Rewards Club. It is intended to help IHG to understand hotel guests’ priorities when travelling, as it becomes the first and only hotel group to offer free global Internet access to all of its loyalty members.

Lack of Internet is considered more vexing than poor transport links, as cited by 26 percent, while 24 percent cited a noisy location as the most vexing circumstance. Of those surveyed, 61 percent said that Internet was the most important facility they could have in their hotel room. It was considered more significant to a good stay than the having a television (17 percent), a bath (5 percent), or a fridge (3 percent).

Almost two-thirds (64 percent) would prefer to use the Internet rather than a phone to contact family, the study said. Nearly two thirds of respondents, (65 percent), would be very unhappy travelling if they had no way of connecting with loved ones back home. Over half of parent business travellers (53 percent) surveyed cited connecting with family at home as the best way to de-stress at the end of a working day. A mere 1 percent of respondents said that a mini bar was the most important facility they could have in their hotel room.

89 percent said that free Internet would make them happier whilst travelling away for business. More business travellers said they would log on to available Internet networks as soon they arrived rather than unpack.

Relationship expert, Jenni Trent Hughes, commented in the Telegraph: ‘Just hearing a voice on a telephone is no longer sufficient for the 21st century traveller, we need the comfort of being able to see loved ones too. We want to see our children’s smiles when we’re reading them their bedtime story over Skype; be able to look our partner in the eye when we tell them how much we miss them, as well as keep up with all our social media obligations and emails.

‘We now believe that when staying away from home, being connected with a minimum fuss and maximum ease is crucial for keeping our various relationships ticking over. When these expectations aren’t met, we feel anxious and frustrated so it’s no wonder that nowadays many of us can’t relax until we are safely checked-in and logged-on.’

Richard Solomons, chief executive of IHG, said: ‘We understand how important it is for our guests to be able to stay in touch whilst travelling. That’s why, alongside great existing benefits such as points that never expire, we have introduced free Internet for our members as part of IHG Rewards Club. These leading benefits are why IHG Rewards Club has been chosen by more travellers than any other hotel loyalty programme, worldwide.’

Hotels have also faced criticism in recent years for continuing to charge guests for Wi-Fi. A study of 70 different hotels and hotel chains by Telegraph Travel in 2012 revealed that just 24 offer free Wi-Fi.