This review was revised 18 October
* items include readers letters
1 JUNE 2009
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AIRBUS has celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Franco-German agreement to launch the A300. On 29 May 1969, the French Minister of Transport, Jean Chamant, and the German Minister of Economic Affairs, Karl Schiller, signed an agreement for the joint-development of the aircraft, a first European twin-aisle twin-engine jet for medium haul air travel. This historic event took place during the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget. In October 1972, the A300 made its maiden flight and the first production model, the A300B2 entered service in 1974. Initially the success of the consortium was poor but by 1979 there were 81 aircraft in service. It was the announcement of the narrow-bodied A320 in 1981 that guaranteed the status of Airbus as a major player in the aircraft market – the aircraft had over 400 orders before it first flew, compared to 15 for the A300 in 1972. That figure now stands at over 5,600 aircraft to some 400 customers with a healthy backlog of around 3,500 units for delivery over the coming years. www.airbus.com
BRITISH AIRWAYS (BA) may bid for some of bmi’s landing slots if they become available according to CEO Willie Walsh speaking to analysts in New York last week and reported by the Financial Times. bmi is due to be sold to Lufthansa (LH) but that is in dispute AERBT 25 May 2009. Mr Walsh did not say how he would use the extra slots or how BA would pay for them. BA has a less slot percentage than LH at Frankfurt and AF at Charles de Gaulle. In another move the airline said that it is committed to First Class but on selective routes. A new premium product is being developed. There is no First Class to the Caribbean. www.ba.com
FLYBE, which is not a listed company but has BA as a 15% shareholder, has issued a strong statement complaining that British Airways has written down its stake in the regional carrier by around 25%. The Exeter-based airline makes it clear that its business model was robust and it would make a pre-tax profit for the year to March 2010. "Flybe notes with surprise that British Airways has chosen to impair the value.... Flybe believes that the decision is principally based on BA's view of their own performance and prospects rather than an analytical view of Flybe's track record and future prospects," it said. "Flybe places on record that it and its advisors disagree with BA's decision to impair its shareholding in Flybe." www.flybe.com
GOLDEN TULIP, which has its corporate head office in Lausanne (Switzerland), has filed for bankruptcy regarding the 13 hotels in the Netherlands that it directly owns and operates, it said last week. The decision will not affect franchised or affiliated hotels, of which there are 720 in more than 50 countries, and the affected hotels will continue to operate during the proceedings, the company said. The group owns 60 hotels directly. The privately-owned hotel chain had warned earlier this year that declining occupancy rates and the cost of investing in new hotels had led to losses. In March, it said it was going into voluntary receivership. www.goldentulip.com
BRITISH AIRWAYS has lost one of its London City Airport-based AVRO RJ100 aircraft used on the Edinburgh (EDI) services. Following damage caused by a failed nose wheel on landing back in February the aircraft has been withdrawn and dismantled for spares. BA is to retire the AVRO fleet from October onwards as the new Embraer ‘e series’ aircraft begin to arrive. In the meantime the loss of the aircraft will lead to 25 job cuts at BA Cityflyer which the company said it hoped to achieve through voluntary means. The LCY-EDI frequency will be reduced from eight to six return flights weekdaily. Our photograph by, Mark Wagner, was taken before five new aircraft parking stands were added over the water. www.aviation-images.com www.ba.com www.lcy.co.uk
PRESTWICK and Manston could join the list of UK airports for sale as owner Infratil, the New Zealand-based infrastructure investment company, hints at the possibility of offloading its European airport assets after posting an after-tax loss of NZD191m (USD112m) for the year ended 31 March. The previous year the loss was just NZD2m. In Europe Infratil also owns Lübeck Airport 35 miles north east of Hamburg where its tenants are Ryanair and Wizz. In New Zealand it has a controlling 66% interest in Wellington International. www.infratil.com
AIR SOUTHWEST, the airline of Cornwall and Devon, is to replace its eye catching WOW three-letter code with ‘SZ’ with immediate effect. Whilst WOW might be admirable it does not really work in the real international airline business where the IATA two-letter codes are the norm with most global sales systems. SZ says it will now be able to work more closely with other airlines in the future. The carrier recently introduced a twice daily service between London City and both Plymouth and Newquay, competing head-on with First Great Western trains. The airline says the effect on its Gatwick operation has been minimal, customers from the south west sometimes using one service out and the other back. Passenger figures are good and a third service is being considered. www.airsouthwest.com
For those old enough to recall black and white television and the words of George Orwell in his book 1984 (published 1949 and a 1954 BBC TV series) the words 'Big Brother is Watching You' have come back to haunt us. A GPS device called 'Traakit' is now on sale which gives operators the knowledge of where the gadget is anywhere in the world. This might be OK, according the Daily Telegraph, for Mrs Rachel Wilder keeping her eyes (if that is the word) on her son Harry in Australia from the living room, but we can see all sorts of repercussions. Traakit costs UKP279 plus UKP11 a month service charge or can be rented for UKP50 a month. www.traakit.co.uk
Nick Mercer is Commercial Director for Eurostar, which has launched a unique online facility enabling travellers to search every train for its cheapest UKP59 return fare. He says it’s high time the travel industry responded to consumer demand for fares transparency. ON THE SOAPBOX appears on the first Monday of every month.
“Alongside timeshare scams and bogus holiday clubs, travel fares must be one of the few consumer purchases where the final cost can turn out to be an order of magnitude greater than the originally advertised price.
The travel industry has created a parallel universe where the fares we first see in newspapers and on website home pages frequently bear no relation to the amount that finally comes off our credit or debit cards. For instance, London City Airport’s boss recently cited a UKP2.49 fare that became UKP93 by the time the customer had completed the transaction.
This is patently absurd, and the European Union thinks so too. That’s why it launched a Europe-wide investigation into airline web sites and how they presented their prices, and published the results last month. Whilst it says there has been a ‘step change’ in ticket selling websites, it is still the case that the online path to a ticket to fly is strewn with extras. The final price is rarely visible before the moment of completing a transaction, continuing to make price comparisons time-consuming and difficult.
Eurostar believes it is time to treat travellers better, and to win their trust by helping them transparently to get the best deal – hence our online search facility for UKP59 fare availability.
How did it come to this?
Budget airlines have revolutionised the business model of short haul travel since the mid-90s. But, a decade or so later, all airlines now operate in broadly the same way – and flying has become so commoditised that the only way airlines can still seek advantage is via the lowest possible lead-in price.
Everything else has become an extra. Yet imagine if eating in a restaurant was like buying a flight, where you had to pay extra for a knife and fork, or for a menu, or using the toilet facilities. Consumers would find it absurd, and go elsewhere. But in the travel industry, they are forced to play the price accumulator game every time they book.
What’s more the extra costs often fail to reflect the real costs of providing the incremental services. The amount that credit card companies charge companies, for instance, is often nowhere near as much as the far bigger charge that is passed onto travellers. The same goes for debit cards. Then non-itemised ‘taxes/fees’ are added. Electronic check-in that costs a few pennies becomes multiples of pounds. And so on.
What do consumers want?
Eurostar commissioned MORI to carry out research into this topic, which we published in the recent report ‘Travel Nation’. It examines consumer attitudes in a downturn. Despite, or perhaps because of, the recession more consumers say they plan to get away to relax and recharge the batteries this year compared with last. Sizeable minorities say they would even avoid eating out or buying clothes for an entire year in order to safeguard their holidays.
But the most striking finding was around the issues of trust and value. Increased competition has stripped costs out of the industry in the belief that consumers value price above everything else. Now we need to question whether we have gone too far. The report finds that the industry has become polarised, with sectors that are trusted on pricing seen not to represent value, and sectors seen to offer value generally not trusted on pricing.
Indeed, two-thirds of consumers think that ‘travel companies or operators who advertise deals that you have little chance of booking’ give the whole industry a bad name. And over half say that they ‘no longer pay much attention to prices advertised’ because they can rarely book them.
Hardly ringing endorsements – in fact a clear sign that lack of transparency in pricing has left consumers feeling frustrated, and is tainting the reputation of the industry as a whole. It’s time to reconnect.
A time for transparency.
At Eurostar, we believe that consumers want transparency of price, and to know that what they see is what they pay. That’s why no-one booking on eurostar.com has to pay airline-style extra charges – except for the very few that want to take really large items that need to go in the luggage hold. We’re not alone – Air Berlin was recently reported as saying that its customers want "certainty, service and simplicity". And outside the bizarre world of travel industry pricing, almost every business thinks like this.
We live in a time when consumers have lost faith in banks and politicians – two of the most important controls on their lives. Yet in a downturn, all the research shows that consumers seek value and peace of mind more than ever. They want brands and suppliers whose products and prices they trust to be the best available.
Travel is no different. It is essential for the future of every business that its customers inherently trust it and repeat their custom. Trust is dependent on a commitment to both transparency and value.
It seems the travel industry has lost sight of the end goal: helping consumers have the best experience possible. It has created a mirage of ‘value’ offered at any price, no matter how unrealistic, when people actually want to maximise experience and minimise risk. The industry needs to rebuild trust. That means offering prices that really are transparent, not ones that end up leaving customers feeling short-changed and taken for a ride.”
Eurostar and Europe’s fast-expanding high-speed rail network are changing the way people think about short haul travel. Research has shown that a Eurostar journey generates just one-tenth of the carbon dioxide emissions of an equivalent flight, and all journeys are carbon-neutral at no extra cost to travellers. Under its Tread Lightly plan, Eurostar has reduced CO2 emissions per passenger journey by 31% over the last two years. Eurostar was among the Best Green Companies in The Sunday Times Green Companies Awards 2009. www.eurostar.com
JET AMERICA is a new airline about to make its first flight in spite of the severe economic situation. On 13 July it will begin services from Toledo (Ohio) to Newark (New Jersey) and Melbourne (Florida) with Minneapolis-St Paul (Minnesota) added the next day. The airline says that it will charge 50%-70% less than the major carriers. As a promotion it is offering up to nine seats per flight available at a USD9 fare. The airline is to operate 189-seat single class Boeing 737-800s. A beverage and meal service and audio and video entertainment are all purchasable on board. CEO is John Weikle whose previous airline venture, SkyBus, ceased operations in April 2008, after less than one year in business. SkyBus offered ten USD10 one-way tickets per flight. Jet America was originally scheduled to take off on 1 June, but under a different name, Air Azul. The name was changed earlier this month, citing internal changes. www.jetamerica.com
DELTA AIR LINES has confirmed a new bag policy whereby passengers travelling to or from cities outside the United States can check two bags per passenger at no extra charge. For customers between the US and Europe those in Economy Class will be charged USD50 (or the local equivalent currency) for the second checked bag. Premium Class clients do not have to pay nor anyone who has purchased a full fare economy ticket. When travelling within the United States, US Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico, customers will be charged USD15 for the first checked bag and USD25 for the second checked bag (each way, for round trip). They also get a heavier allowance, 18kg against 22.5kg. North West, now part of Delta, has applied the same rules. www.delta.com
FLYDUBAI, the newest low cost airline in the Middle East, has received their AOC (Air Operator's Certificate) and can now start to offer lower fares to the rest of the Gulf region and to destinations in India. The airline will operate a fleet of 54 Boeing 737-800s seating 189 passengers starting on 1 June 2009. The airline has ordered 50 737-800s directly from Boeing at last year's Farnborough Air Show and the remaining four aircraft from aircraft lessors. www.flydubai.com
AEGEAN AIRLINES, Greece’s largest airline in terms of passenger numbers and based in Athens, has had its membership application for the ever-expanding Star Alliance officially accepted. The integration will take about 12 months. Publicly listed Aegean Airlines began services some ten years ago and now operates a fleet of 31 aircraft covering a total of 47 domestic and international routes on 200 daily flights. Specifically 23 routes in Greece are covered, as well as a further 24 international destinations including Manchester and Stansted. In 2008 Aegean carried six million passengers, an increase of 14% over the previous year. www.aegeanair.com
LONDONERS and visitors will again be hit by industrial action from Tuesday 9 June after the RMT transport union called for staff to begin a 48-hour walk-out at 18:59 after its members voted overwhelmingly for strike action in two disputes over pay deals and proposed job losses. London Mayor Boris Johnson had pledged to seek a no-strike deal with Tube unions during his election campaign but has made no progress. AERBT recommends that you go home early and keep away from central London on the Wednesday and Thursday. www.tfl.gov.uk
VIRGIN ATLANTIC has come up with an impressive set of figures for the year ended 28 February 2009. Profits nearly doubled to UKP68.4m and passenger numbers rose to 5.77m, a 13% increase. Last year Virgin consolidated with no new aircraft and the carrier continued with its policy of keeping away from the various airline alliances. Ten per cent of the profits go into a staff scheme. In a strongly worded statement Virgin once again emphasized that the plans by BA and AA, in the words of Sir Richard Branson “to effectively merge” were not in the interests of consumers. Both airlines overlap on some of the most popular airline routes in the world – to and from Heathrow – and their proposals would mean less competition on key Heathrow destinations including Boston, Chicago, Dallas Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami and New York JFK. www.flyvirgin.com
Le Bourget will once again host the Paris Salon 15 to 21 June. This year the air show celebrates the centenary of the first ever aero exhibition, at the Grand Palais by the Champs Elysées. Whilst an Airbus A380 will be on display undoubtedly the most talked about aircraft will be one that is not there, and may not have even flown yet. The Boeing 787. Visitor turnout will probably be down but one can never accuse the aerospace industry of not looking to the future and there is sure to be an air of optimism. From central Paris take the RER to Le Bourget local station. There is a shuttle bus service, the alternative walk a good 20 minutes, and that before one gets into the showground. From CDG it is the RER once again, a local (and very slow) bus, or one of plentiful taxis. www.paris-air-show.com
AIR NEW ZEALAND (ANZ) has published results of a biofuel test flight carried out at the end of last year which showed that up to 1.4 tonnes of fuel can be saved on a 12-hour long haul flight using 50/50 fuel blend of second generation jatropha sustainable biofuel and traditional Jet A1. The test, a joint initiative between Air New Zealand, Boeing, Honeywell and Rolls-Royce, was carried out on 30 December as part of a drive for more sustainable air travel for future generations and used the highest blend of any type of biofuel in a test flight to date. ANZ says that the report also found that the biofuel’s properties gave a saving of approximately 4.5 tonnes of CO2. Data from this evaluation flight programme will be published to various industry bodies to contribute to the current programme evaluating this and similar fuel products with a view to achieving approval of them as alternatives to existing Jet A1. The first ever biofuel flight was in February 2008 by Virgin Atlantic using a 20% fuel blend. Continental and Japan Airlines have followed in recent months. www.airnewzealand.co.nz
INTERCONTINENTAL’S Bangkok property has now completed a USD25.9m refurbishment programme. New to the hotel is Grossi Trattoria and Wine Bar – a partnership with Guy Grossi, Melbourne-based Australian restaurateur, author and celebrity chef – which brings family-style authentic Italian dining to the city. Also arrived is a gourmet chocolate confectionery shop Choc! which allows guests to view the entire chocolate-making process. Located on Ploenchit Road, at the core of the city’s business and commercial districts, the hotel has 37 floors and 381 guest rooms. www.ihgplc.com
WESTMINSTER is doing its bit to help holidaymakers. According to a survey carried out by YouGov on behalf of the Department for Transport, over half of holidaymakers (57%) do not always check if their holiday is insurance protected when they book. A new web page has been launched to inform travellers just what their rights are. Once again emphasis is made on the virtues of the ATOL (Air Travel Organisers' Licence) scheme which will bring package holiday clients home in the case of trouble and did so when Zoom failed last August. Even amongst those holidaymakers surveyed who had travel insurance at least 34% fail to check if theirs cover against airline failure. Many policies exclude SAFI (scheduled airline failure insurance) so consumers should read the small print if they want this. However independent travellers who book with an airline by credit card may be able to reclaim the price of the lost flights (for amounts over USP100). www.direct.gov.uk/holidayprotection www.yougov.co.uk
BRITISH AIRWAYS is to launch new twice weekly services from Gatwick to Montego Bay and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. The new flights will begin from 25 October 2009. BA claims to be the largest British operator into the Caribbean with 13 destinations, all from Gatwick. Frequencies have also been increased with flights to St Lucia up from three to five a week, Barbados from nine to ten, and Port of Spain (Trinidad) from three to five. Overall, BA will now fly 45 times a week to the Caribbean. However, the airline, the last to offer New York services from Gatwick, will pull the daily flight at the end of the summer season. www.ba.com
IATA (International Air Transport Association) has published traffic figures for April which show a 3.1% decline in passenger demand and a 21.7% fall in cargo demand compared to April 2008. The average passenger load factor stood at 74.4%. While April’s 3.1% passenger demand drop was a clear improvement compared to the -11.1% fall in March, this improvement should be viewed with caution says IATA. Easter holidays, which fell in the month of April, positively skews the data by at least 2%. Traffic gains were at the expense of yields in most regions. And preliminary data for May suggests a renewed double digit decline, at least for European airlines. Freight demand appears to have found a solid floor with a fifth consecutive month at more than 20% below the previous year’s levels. www.iata.org
SHANGRI-LA’S eagerly-anticipated Villingili Resort and Spa (Maldives) will open on 26 July. It is just eight minutes by high speed launch from Gan Island, well known to an earlier generation of British service personnel as a re-fuelling point on the way to Hong Kong and Singapore. The resort comprises of 142 spacious stand-alone villas, from private ocean retreats to tropical luxury tree house villas with panoramic views. All the chalets feature both an indoor and outdoor shower, a private terrace leading to the beach and either a waterfront or lush garden. The complex is completely self-contained in terms of restaurants and facilities. Private jets can land at Gan and there are connecting flights to Male where British Airways is to introduce a three times per week Boeing 777 non-stop service to Gatwick from 25 October. At the same time BA is adding Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, also with three return services per week. www.shangri-la.com
AIRCELL, the main supplier of in-flight wi-fi in the United States, says that the installation is proving to be a great success with about 1,000 aircraft already fitted for use on domestic services and the figure likely to double by the end of net year. That is roughly two-thirds of the mainline North American fleet, which excludes regional jets. It costs about USD100,000 a 'plane to install the Aircell system, which adds only 300 pounds of weight. In Europe the problems are legal due to competing national airwave policies. It is of course a ready made excuse for carriers not to introduce the equipment during what is a very difficult economic period. www.aircell.com
Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands with 350 miles of coastline and just over 1350 square miles of land. Originally it was a destination selected by the exclusive few including Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Gary Cooper. The sixties and seventies dulled the lustre with the growth of mass tourism fed by endless package tourists. However cash brought in by the masses has reinvigorated the island, enabling a developed infrastructure, so encouraging a return towards quality tourism.
Much of the rejuvenation can also be attributed to the advent of the low cost airlines such as easyjet and bmi baby, bringing independent tourists wanting to discover authentic Mallorca. British Airways operates a yearly schedule, along with a number of charter operators who provide a vast selection of routes from some 35 UK airports through the summer. These include Flybe, Flyglobespan, Jet2, Monarch, Thomas Cook and Thomsonfly. Other major European airlines servicing the island include Air Berlin, Vueling, Wizzair and of course national carrier Iberia.
Whilst there are still a few package tourist enclaves, a return to traditional, affordable, elegance is now the epitome of the Mallorcan experience. AERBT found that this was ably demonstrated by the boutique situated in the former fishing village of Cala San Vicente although, to be fair, we could have just of easily given our patronage to a number of other very attractive looking properties.
Situated just 100yards from the lapping shores of Cala Barques, the hotel has been open for 30 years, and retains its tradition of providing guests with a real home away from home. Oscar winning actors, famed celebrity chefs and well known musicians form part of the extensive client heritage.
From the minute one enters, elegance surrounds you. Antique Mallorcan furniture blends with light Mallorcan prints. Staff are charming but not obsequious. Rooms are spacious and comfortable with beautiful balconies and stylish furniture. Along with a heated pool set in manicured gardens, guests can also enjoy a well equipped gym, spa treatments, lounge bar, or one of the three restaurants offering a variety of styles.
Art in all its glory
Mallorca is an island devoted to art and here the Hotel Cala San Vicente does not lag behind offering monthly art exhibitions by local artists.
Exhibiting art in a hotel is not that unusual as competition for wall space from the artistic community is intense. Celebrity chef Marc Fosh, proprietor of Simply Fosh in Palma, says he loves having art in his restaurant as it is another attraction for guests, as well as his amazing food.
In Palma art spills out onto the streets with many buildings demonstrating fine examples of the Modernisme movement influenced by Gaudi. Spanish artist Miro settled in Palma. The Fundacio De Pilar and Joan Miro offers through his painting, sculptures and works in progress, a fascinating insight into his life, philosophy and art.
In stark contrast to Palma’s galleries, the Fundacion de Ben Jakober, is a magical homage to an eclectic selection of art. Situated on the verdant Aucanada Peninsula, the foundation presents a fascinating collection of portraits of European royal children from the 15th century onwards providing an insight into their repressed lives. The images are offset against a set of contemporary animal sculptures scattered around the gardens, inspired by and for children. The collection is also host to the skeletal remains of a woolly rhinoceros which guards a Swarovski curtain consisting of over 100 000 crystals. For a truly stimulating day, a trip to the foundation should not be missed.
Wine Tasting is encouraged
AERBT encourages visitors to find out more about the Mallorcan wine industry. Pliny said Mallorca produced some of the best wines in the Mediterranean, but having suffered phylloxera, wars, and near starvation, it is only now that Mallorcan wine is resurging.
Production scales are small but offer a broad spectrum with some 60 vineyards including biodynamic producers Jaume Mesquida, organic producers Biniagrau, and bodegas like Macia Batle using predominantly indigenous grapes which produce a whole new set of flavours for the most sophisticated of palettes.
AERBT visited Vinyes Mortitx situated just 15 minutes from Cala San Vicente. Heading into the landscape of the savage Tramuntana mountain range, navigating hairpin bends and avoiding suicidal goats, it seems impossible that a vineyard could thrive in the ragged landscape. However, established by a group of local friends in 2001, Vinyes Mortitx is now producing award winning wines at 400 meters above sea level. The wines are French influenced, and include a disarmingly light rose, Flairales and the Decantar award winning Lu, a strong elegant wine from a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet. As she stands in front of a wall full of international awards, Aurelie, the vineyards oenologist smiles wryly as she tells me most Mallorcan vintners said a vineyard at this height would never work.
The Mediterranean is great for sailing
Some 35 marinas are home to a variety of vessels from the traditional Mallorcan yate, (fishing boat), to the super-yachts moored in Palma. For those that are keen to learn sailing skills visit Saracen Sailing, an RYA (Royal Yachting Association) school based out of the Bonaire and Alcudia marinas. Situated just 20 minutes from the Hotel Cala San Vicenç AERBT joined them for a taster day. Calmly motoring out of the marina the view back to the island gave the Mallorcan landscape a whole new perspective as the bare mountains give way to holm-oak lined hills.
The main sail was hoisted, the gib unfurled and before we knew it we were enjoying the peace of the bay with just the sound of the sails flapping in the wind. Egrets and cormorants were fishing in the sparkling waters around us, and the peace and tranquillity of the yacht left everybody in a contemplative mood. We were encouraged to get involved, or just relax and take in the views, either way after a day at sea, the only thing left to do was relax into an evening meal at the fabulous Pto Alcudia restaurant Dulcinea which serves reputably the best paella in Mallorca. There really is no better way to end the day sailing, before heading back to the elegance of the Hotel Cala San Vicenç.
Jane runs Emerald Media Spain, focusing on lifestyle and aviation PR and is co-founder of tailor-made holiday specialist Balearic Discovery. She speaks Spanish too and points out the island language is a dialect of Catalan called Mallorquin, although pretty much everybody speaks Castillan. firstname.lastname@example.org