20 JUNE 2011
BTN also goes out by email every Sunday night at midnight (UK time). To view this edition click here.
The Business Travel News
PO Box 758
Edgware HA8 4QF
+44 (0)20 8952 8383
© 2019 Business Travel News Ltd.
SITA, the IT specialist, says it has become the world’s first global mobile data services provider dedicated to the air transport industry. Through a new extended partnership agreement with Orange Business Services, the air transport communication's expert is to provide connectivity with all involved in the business enabling the secure use of mobile data, machine-to-machine and application to person technologies worldwide.
Francesco Violante, CEO, SITA said: “As the adoption of mobile devices and data transfer soars worldwide, the air transport industry requires a high-performing, cost-effective service that provides consistent connectivity globally. SITA has partnered with Orange Business Services because it provides global coverage at competitive rates. Together we are combining this high standard of data connectivity with SITA’s knowledge of the air transport industry to make the use of mobile applications most effective.”
Orange Business Services extends to 400 roaming agreements in more than 180 countries giving 100% national roaming.
Mr Violante pointed out that SITA already provides a mobile workforce solution to airlines that are today embracing mobile data applications such as electronic flight bags and mobile passenger applications. By becoming the first global mobile data services provider for the industry, SITA claims to deliver a one-stop-shop solution that includes middleware, managed devices, Wi-Fi connectivity at airports and global 3G data connectivity. www.sita.aero
Boeing predicts a US$4 trillion market for new aircraft over the next 20 years with a significant increase in forecasted deliveries. The company's annual commercial aviation market analysis released last week foresees a market for 33,500 new passenger aeroplanes and freighters between 2011 and 2030.
"The world market has recovered and is now expanding at a significant rate," said Randy Tinseth, Vice President of Marketing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "Not only is there a strong demand for air travel and new airplanes today, but the fundamental drivers of air travel – including economic growth, world trade and liberalization – all point to a healthy long-term demand."
Passenger traffic is expected to grow at 5.1% annual rate over the long-term and the world fleet is expected to double by 2030. The single-aisle market will continue to see strong demand around the world and is expected to increase its share of the market. Fleet composition will change significantly by 2030 with single-aisle jets making up 70% of the total. www.boeing.com/cmo
Samsung electronics is to provide American Airlines with Galaxy mobile electronic tablets for premium class in-flight entertainment. The carrier plans to deploy 6,000 of the new Galaxy Tab 10.1 devices onboard select flights beginning later this year.
The tablets will replace the airline’s current personal entertainment device in American’s premium cabins on transcontinental flights between New York’s JFK and Los Angeles, JFK and San Francisco, and Miami and Los Angeles served with 767-200 and 767-300 aircraft; international flights to and from Europe and South America flown by 767-300 aircraft; and transcontinental flights departing from Boston to Los Angeles with 757 aircraft.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 combines the Android platform, ultra-slim, lightweight design, a brilliant 10-inch touch screen and array of applications. It is powered by the Android™ 3.1 (Honeycomb) platform, offering faster and smoother transitions between different applications, more intuitive navigation to and from home screens and broader support of USB accessories, external keyboards, joysticks and gamepads. Samsung will customize the Galaxy Tab for American’s in-flight entertainment needs, including the addition of expanded memory. www.samsung.com
With a little more than eight months gone since the merger of Continental Airlines (CO) and United Air Lines (UA) the company is able to report that half of the combined mainline fleet now features the new shared livery.
As of 8 June, the airline has completed repainting 351 aircraft in the combined colour scheme. There are also aeroplanes in the Star Alliance colours and with the heritage themes such as the FriendShip Airbus A320 and the Blue Skyway Boeing 737-900ER. The airline says it expects to finish the entire CO fleet and all the UA narrow bodies by 30 June 2012, and the last of the UA wide bodies in 2013.
At Heathrow, its main European centre, the combined flight operation now offers 17 flights every day. Currently United operate four daily services from the Star Alliance Terminal 1 to Washington, DC; three to Chicago; two to San Francisco and one to Los Angeles. Continental is still in T4 with twice daily Houston services, and five New York/Newark flights. Newark is also served non-stop from Manchester (twice daily), Edinburgh (twice daily), Belfast, Birmingham and Glasgow (all daily). In the Irish Republic the New Jersey airport has services twice daily from Dublin and 11 times weekly from Shannon. www.united.com
With Heathrow's recent announcement of the installation of electric car charging points ’s Gatwick Airport has confirmed that it too can supply power for the new range of high technology vehicles. They have actually gone one better and allowed CEO Stewart Wingate to drive such a vehicle in the North terminal building, the delightful Nissan LEAF (Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable, Family car).
Mr Wingate said: “Opting to partner with Nissan LEAF to promote and support the use of electric vehicles was an obvious choice for us as the brand’s goals fit with our own values and aspirations at Gatwick.
“We are driving a programme to incentivise the use of cleaner vehicles across the airport community and have set ourselves an ambitious target to push our own use of low emission vehicles to 20% by 2015." www.gatwickairport.com
Doha International Airport is preparing to open before the end of June Terminal B (the old arrivals terminal) as a dedicated facility for foreign airlines – just in time for the summer holiday rush. As a result, the check-in area of the existing Transfer and Departures terminal – to be renamed Terminal A – will be used exclusively for Qatar Airways as the national carrier of Qatar continues to expand at a rapid pace.
Designed to greatly enhance the departure experience for travellers leaving Qatar, the major airport upgrade will facilitate the increased passenger traffic through Doha International Airport until the state-of-the-art New Doha International Airport (NDIA) opens in 2012. The new 2,000sq m large Terminal B, developed on the premises of the former arrivals terminal at DIA, will be entirely dedicated to the over 30 foreign airlines operating services from Doha. Featured is an enlarged check-in area with 35 counters, including an online check-in lounge, dedicated customer service desk for oversized luggage, currency exchange bureau, ATM machines, and food and beverage outlets. www.dohaairport.com
Marriott International’s signature brand, Marriott Hotels & Resorts, has announced a global expansion pipeline of nearly 50 new hotels and resorts to open in the next four years. Properties under development will be mostly in emerging business and leisure destinations, with 24 hotels in the Asia/Pacific region, nine in the Middle East/Africa, four in Europe and 12 in the Americas.
Initially the maximum effort is concentrated in China with new hotels expected to open this year to include the 295-room Shanghai Marriott Luwan, on the Huangpu River. Also in Shanghai is the 5-star, 720-room Shanghai Marriott Hotel City Centre. It offers more than 2,000sq m (22,000sq ft) of dedicated event space and is within walking distance of Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street, People's Square and the Bund.
The 319-room Guangzhou Marriott Hotel Tianhe opens this autumn. The new hotel will have three restaurant outlets, lobby lounge, 1,200sq m (13,000sq ft) of meeting facilities, and a spacious fitness centre. Also new in the autumn is a 392-room property, part of the Hainan International Conference & Exhibition Centre on Hainan Island.
In the coming months there are also new properties in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan (India) and in Rayong (Thailand). www.marriott.com
This is a motoring joke and once again IFALPA dug it out from somewhere. Pilots seem to have time to find these!
A man was driving home late one afternoon, and he was driving above the speed limit. He notices a police car in his rear view mirror. He thinks "I can outrun this guy," so he floors it and the race is on. The cars are racing down the highway -- 60, 70, 80, 90 miles an hour.
Finally, as his speedometer passes 100, the guy figures "what the heck," and gives up. He pulls over to the curb.
The police officer gets out of his cruiser and approaches the car. He leans down and says, "Listen mister, I've had a really lousy day, and I just want to go home. Give me a good excuse and I'll let you go."
The man though for a moment and said ... "Three weeks ago, my wife ran off with a police officer. When I saw you in my rear view mirror, I thought you were that officer and you were trying to give her back to me!"
Following AERBT’s report in the 23 May issue Steve Slater, an international TV sports journalist, has responded. He is also a PPL holder and Honorary Press Officer of the Historic Aircraft Association.
It was always expected that security restrictions around the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games would require a known air traffic environment. It is therefore not surprising to see an exclusion zone around the stadiums and Olympic village.
However the proposal of a Restricted Zone covering over 3,000 square miles is unnecessarily draconian. The zone extends from Cambridge in the north to almost the south coast. It has no geographical logic, it has simply been drawn along existing 3,500ft air traffic control boundaries without any reference to navigational features or local lower airspace needs. Its imposition will inconvenience many, and may also cost some their livelihoods.
Blackbushe, Duxford, Earls Colne, Fairoaks, Headcorn, Old Warden, White Waltham and Wycombe are just a few of the busy general aviation (GA) airfields that have been placed within the zone. Between July and September 2012, in order to fly in this zone a pilot must file a flight plan and receive an approval number. This may or may not be given dependent on air traffic control (ATC) workload at least two hours before take-off.
Whilst many flights will be local, landing and taking off at the same airport, there are people who fly to a destination, for business or pleasure, and return the same day. What happens when one rushes back to an airfield that is just about to close? Is an overnight stay a prospect (and even worse if you originated on the Continent)?
To comply with the regulations a pilot must establish and maintain radio communications and ‘squawk’ a specific transponder code. As can be imagined many flying school operations, particularly flights for students who have just reached solo standard, will be almost impossible within these requirements.
The restrictions will simply stop activities such as ballooning and gliding which just cannot operate under the restrictions, while many private owners of microlights, light aircraft and vintage types will effectively be excluded from their home airspace for the duration.
Many aircraft used for local leisure flying have radios (if fitted at all) with limited range. Their electrical systems too are often simply incapable of driving the power requirements of a transponder which needs to continually transmit its coded message.
There are some who feel that leisure aviation may just have to suffer for the greater good for the three months.
For airfields, flying clubs and maintenance organisations within the zone, there will be a dramatic drop in revenue for one quarter of the next year. GA businesses rarely operate with conspicuous ‘meat on the bone’. Any financial reserves will be eroded or worse still companies and jobs may simply disappear.
While gliding and ballooning may appear ‘niche’ activities, a significant number of people earn their livings carrying out maintenance, flying and instructing at sites across the affected region. It is also noteworthy that other areas of aviation will be adversely affected too.
Somewhat belatedly in May, the DfT and the CAA requested information from the GA sector of the true cost the Olympic Airspace Restrictions will have on the aviation community. It seems that neither NATS nor the CAA were party to the scale of the restrictions until the initial announcement by the Right Honorable Theresa Villiers MP, Minister of State for Transport, on 7 March.
Their apparent expectation was that any announcement would form the start of consultation. Instead the DfT's transport security arm, TRANSEC, simply imposed the restriction as a fait accompli.
Had TRANSEC discussed this more fully in advance of their pronouncement, it is clear a solution which better meets the needs of the GA community is available.
TRANSEC’s stated requirement is for a 30m radius security zone centred on the Olympic Park. However the use of existing ATC boundaries has extended this area disproportionately.
A simple circular line of 30nm radius that does not follow existing airspace architecture would clearly and simply define the restricted airspace and match the Government’s security specifications, while placing 70% of previously affected airfields outside the restricted zone. Other airfields such as White Waltham and Rochester would be sufficiently close to the zone boundary that special access corridors could be created if required.
This proposal has been forwarded to the Department by GA organisations including the British Gliding Association, UK Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Historic Aircraft Association and Light Aircraft Association. We now await the Minister’s response with interest.
The map can be found at
With British Airways already its sponsor into oneworld, airberlin is to get even closer to the UK carrier with a new codeshare arrangement. This will come into effect on 5 July.
With the agreement BA customers can now buy direct flights on airberlin to the cities of Munster, Nuremburg and Paderborn through ba.com. In addition customers can access airberlin’s wider European network which includes connections from the main German gateways to destinations such as Brindisi and Palermo.
For the German airline the move is even more significant, widening the booking scope. Joachim Hunold, CEO explains: "British Airways is our sponsoring airline within oneworld. That makes this new agreement a milestone for us as we look forward to the coming year, during which Air Berlin will be joining the alliance. Thanks to these codeshare flights with British Airways, our passengers will now have available to them two further airports, in addition to Gatwick and Stansted, from which they can continue their journey towards other destinations in the UK."
Next Saturday 25 June airberlin will host the brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner direct from the Paris Air Show. British Airways is also a customer for the aircraft. www.airberlin.com
Jim Albaugh, President of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, found time last week in what was clearly a busy schedule prior to the Paris Air Show to deliver the prestigious Sopwith lecture at the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Mr Albaugh said that it was not known whether Tommy Sopwith or Bill Boeing ever met. The Briton certainly successfully demonstrated his aircraft in the US in the years before the First World War, inspiring Congress, and produced in a short time scale 16,000 aircraft, impressive figures even by Boeing standards.
Mr Albaugh, gave away nothing when discussing, and asked about the next generation of Boeing short haul aeroplanes.
“We have the technology to build an all-new aircraft that could be ready for service by the end of the decade,” was all that he would say. He admitted that Boeing had got it wrong with the supply line for the 787.
Asked by AERBT for his views on supersonic flight after Concorde, he said that it did have a future, but that with the Sonic Cruiser Boeing had fallen between the stools. www.boeing.com/commercial
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has announced alterations to the system of representation for air travellers in order, it is claimed, to give the consumer a stronger voice in the regulatory structure and improve the passenger experience.
The main change will be to create a new independent body to represent passengers’ interests, replacing the existing Air Transport Users’ Council (AUC). At the same time, the AUC’s complaints handling role will become part of the CAA’s newly created Regulatory Policy Group, to ensure that consideration of the issues that most impact on consumers is at the heart of the Group’s regulatory work.
Out goes the existing AUC and in comes the Aviation Consumer Advocate Panel (ACAP). Whilst the AUC has technically been disbanded the terms of reference and constitution of the ACAP has still to be agreed although publication of its status is expected shortly. Simon Evans, AUC Chief Executive, and the former AUC team continue as CAA employees now dealing mostly with consumer complaints, essentially the majority of their previous work. www.auc.org.uk
Southend Airport is to welcome easyJet as its major operator from April 2012. With a projected initial annual throughput of 800,000 passengers it will turn what is a moribund airport in terms of scheduled flights into a busy operation and help justify owner Stobart Group’s £60m capital investment and runway extension.
There will be 70 easyJet services per week and passengers will have a choice of around 10 different European destinations including Barcelona, Faro and Ibiza. Tickets will go on sale at the end of July 2011.
The easyJet introduction is timed to coincide with the opening of the airport’s new passenger terminal building next year and its adjoining a 3/4-star hotel. The building is located within a minute’s walk from a new train station with up to eight services an hour to Liverpool Street and also to Stratford Regional and the QE Olympic Games park – site of the 2012 games, and to London Liverpool Street, both in well under an hour. www.easyjet.com www.southendairport.com
The Angolan capital of Luanda is to be served with direct non-stop flights from Madrid by Iberia from September. Luanda will be Iberia’s 12th destination in Africa and the second long haul flight in the African continent.
The airline will fly on Mondays and Fridays to Luanda with A340-300 aircraft. The service provides a good connection both ways from London and is an alternative to sister airline’s British Airways twice weekly flights from Heathrow.
Iberia flies to Algiers and Oran (Algeria); Cairo (Egypt); Malabo (Equatorial Guinea); Casablanca, Marrakech, Rabat and Tangier (Morocco); Lagos (Nigeria); Dakar (Senegal); and Johannesburg (South Africa), and it offers another 11 destinations under code sharing with other airlines. www.iberia.com
Hendrik Noorderhaven, was in London last week espousing his company, EUclaim, Dutch-based and a champion of travellers rights. His big argument was that airlines were being less than honest regarding delay compensation payments and that in any event claims should not be made to the carriers, but at credit card companies, with whom the passenger has a contract.
Mr Noorderhaven displayed an intriguing web page which detailed every live flight out of Heathrow and exposed delays. An analysis was also possible. Other airports are on the EUclaim system. He pointed out that the cost of pursuing an airline by legal means can be prohibitively expensive yet it is estimated that 25m UK households have a legal expenses policy. The credit card companies are only liable after the first £100 disallowing small time-consuming claims.
His number one target is Ryanair who has introduced a £2 levy on bookings and will only deal with customers direct citing “middlemen and ambulance chasers”. EUclaim clients can buy a package from £22 setting out how to deal with a claim and does make it clear that is not a law firm but a company with experience of passenger rights. www.euclaim.co.uk
The Landmark London hotel, which adjoins Marylebone Station, has completed an upgrade of 51 luxury suites. With 300 rooms in total the impressive choice comprises of The Presidential Suite, 8 Landmark Suites, 13 Marylebone Suites, 21 Marylebone Studios, 4 Atrium Suites and 4 Corner Executive Suites. This ensures a good range of rooms suitable for families, couples or business travellers looking for a little more space and a wider choice of facilities.
Situated on Marylebone Road, and a short walk to Baker Street, the hotel is probably the nearest 5-star property to the Wembley Stadium complex, a nine-minute train ride available every 30 minutes at least.
Originally one of the great Victorian railway hotels, a major feature is the stunning Winter Garden atrium now the property’s restaurant and lounge area offering a wide selection of modern European cuisine from which guests can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner in picturesque surroundings. Traditional afternoon tea is served, and decadent Sunday Brunch, reservations are taken throughout the year. The spa features a pool, a glass-walled Klafs Sanarium® sauna, menthol and sandalwood showers, steam rooms, a whirlpool and lavish treatment rooms. A wide range of ESPA and newly introduced VOYA treatments and products are available. www.landmarklondon.co.uk
The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE), the official conference programme co-ordinator for this week’s Business Travel Market (BTM) at Excel, has firmed the full symposium schedule for the two-day gathering. These executive-level education sessions will run throughout the event, tackling many key and topical industry issues.
Now in its third year, BTM will be held on 22 and 23 June at London’s ExCel and promises to be a valuable source of information for the hundreds of VIP Hosted Buyers, exhibitors and other visitors attending from all over Europe.
Featured speakers include James Hogan, CEO Etihad Airways; Paul Deighton, CEO of LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games); body language expert Richard Newman and ACTE Executive Director Ron DiLeo.
There are 15 educational seminars with Anne Godfrey (GTMC) starting off on Wednesday morning by a presentation called ‘Getting up to Speed with High Speed Rail’ whilst the afternoon will see Airplus Communication Manager Rana Walker head a panel discussing the benefits of ‘Using Social Media to Improve Traveller Communication.’
Day two of BTM will continue with the same calibre of moderators and panel discussions, with sessions including ‘How to Create a Travel Policy in 60 Minutes.’ ‘Understanding the Demands of Travel on the Body and What You do to Keep Body and Mind in the Zone’ with Simon Shepherd, CEO of Optima Life, all tying in very nicely to this year’s BTM theme of ‘Optimising Business Travel Performance.’ www.businesstravelmarket.co.uk
Greenwich-London, home of the meridian line, and the British Royal Observatory, was chosen by Airbus for a fascinating pre-Paris Air Show presentation on the aircraft interior of 2050. The amazing presentation is available for all to see at Le Bourget this week.
This latest instalment of The Future by Airbus follows last year’s unveiling of the revolutionary Airbus Concept Plane, packed with technologies to reduce fuel burn, emissions, waste and noise. The Airbus Concept Cabin now gives further insight into some of the innovations and technologies that will shape future passenger experiences on board.
Personalised zones replace traditional cabin classes to offer tailored levels of experience. While taking a hop between destinations, according to Airbus, passengers in 2050 could join an interactive conference; enjoy a game of virtual golf; read the kids back home a bedtime story; and recharge in a ‘vitalising seat’ whilst watching the planet spread out beneath their feet.
The Concept Cabin has an integrated ‘neural network’ creating an intelligent interface between passenger and plane. It can identify and respond to passenger needs and enables bespoke features such as morphing seats which change to your body shape. www.airbus.com/innovation/future-by-airbus
As first reported by AERBT towards the end of last year, the rejuvenated Alitalia is in an expansion mood with the introduction of two new routes. June now sees the inauguration of flights to Beijing and Rio de Janeiro.
The Rome (Fiumicino) – Beijing service operates four times a week (five from October) and is an addition to the Rome – Shanghai operation in codeshare with China Eastern.
With the opening of the Beijing flight, Alitalia strengthens its presence in the Far East where it already is the only carrier to offer direct links between Italy and Japan.
The Rome – Rio de Janeiro flight will operate with three weekly frequencies throughout June, these will increase to four in July. The connection to Rio widens Alitalia’s intercontinental network in South America, making Alitalia the first company in terms of connections between Italy and Brazil and the only carrier offering direct scheduled flights from Italy to Rio de Janeiro.
With both services, flights to Beijing and Rio de Janeiro are operated with new Airbus A330 aircraft featuring a three-class cabin configuration: Magnifica, Classica Plus and Classica. www.alitalia.com
An astonishing 42 units per month by 2014 is now the target for Boeing with its single 737 production facility at Renton near Seattle, Washington State. Together with its other commercial aircraft lines this is virtually two aircraft every working day. By comparison Airbus currently produces around 36 A320 series aircraft at Toulouse, Hamburg and Tianjin (China), which is expected to reach 40 in early 2012.
The 737 is a remarkable piece of engineering with 6,700 built and future orders standing around 2,100. At the present time assembly now takes just 11 days (5,500 aeroplane unit hours of work) with a future target of 6 days (4,000 aeroplane unit hours of work). There are two 737 commercial aircraft production lines and one for the military variant.
It was in April 1967 that the first prototype flew. At the time Boeing was considered behind the pace with aircraft design, the BAC 1-11, Douglas DC-9, and Fokker F28 were already well into flight certification. Lufthansa was first airline to order the new single aisle twin-engined aircraft, remarkably today again the lead carrier with the 747-8 Intercontinental. www.boeing.com/commercial
With the title “freeDeliver” Europcar has come up with a new consumer offering, bringing leisure travellers free delivery and collection for their motor rental.
Ken McCall, Managing Director, Europcar UK , explains. “freeDeliver gives back time to our customers – and gives them a service with no strings attached. Business travellers already know how convenient it is to have the car delivered to their door – and collected at the end of the reservation and now we are giving that same convenience to leisure travellers.”
freeDeliver offers Europcar leisure customers the convenience of free delivery and collection at their home. Valid for all bookings for two days or more, it is completely free of charge within 15 miles of any of Europcar’s 200 locations. Customers can have their car delivered to any address within an agreed one hour window. www.europcar.co.uk
Melia Hotel Group’s carefully laid plans to open a top class property in London’s Strand just before the 2012 Olympic Games are likely to be frustrated after a serious fire in the building. Nobody was hurt during the incident which took place last Wednesday morning (15 June). The fire happened also within days of the Group re-branding itself from its long time name Sol Melia.
Melia, whose only London hotel is the highly acclaimed White House close by Regents Park, quickly put out a statement but is clearly not in a position to confirm an opening date
“Melia Hotels International is grateful to the London Fire Brigade for their diligence and responsibility in extinguishing the fire, preventing it spreading to the rest of the building and, above all, avoiding injuries.
“The building work, with the full-risk insurance coverage, will be restarted as soon as possible.”
The 173-room property will, when it opens, feature two restaurants and a bar at ground level, as well as a convention centre with 7,857sq ft of available space. The prestigious site at the junction of The Strand and Aldwych, was previously the City Bank building. www.solmelia.com
In an unprecedented news release the UK Border Agency is warning people not to be taken in by scammers demanding cash in return for dealing with immigration cases. The warning follows a report of an individual posing as a Border Agency officer and visiting a pensioner's home to ask for £1,350 to process his partner's visa.
Jonathan Nancekivell-Smith, Director of Visa Services at the UK Border Agency said: "UK Border Agency officers do not visit homes to collect cash payments and we have referred these allegations to our security team.”
Prompted by this warning AERBT visited the Border Agency web site and found that entry visa to the UK, from non-European Economic Area, is required from just over 100 countries, including the obvious “doubtful” states including North Korea and Yemen, and, rather surprisingly South Africa, a member of the Commonwealth. If you are coming from the United States, no problem, or Australia and New Zealand. www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/while-in-uk
Your Editor in Chief was honoured to be the only British journalist invited on Lufthansa’s highly successful A380 inaugural from Frankfurt to Miami last week. It was just like old times with Concorde, spectators lining the road parallel to the runway as the super jumbo landed.
It was by far the biggest turnout for the Airbus giant, according to the Lufthansa press team, who had covered all the previous six to date, and very well organised by the airport staff.
Host for AERBT was supposed to be the Alexander Hotel, Collins Avenue, right on the front at Miami. And Gene Prescott (no relation to the Lord of that name noted for his two Jaguars and other extravagances), former Vice-Chairman of the Miami Convention Bureau, was only too happy to escort the Editor from the splendid reception organised by the airport to the hotel.
Except he did not. What Mr Prescott’s chauffer did was drive the good Gene and Editor to the Miami Biltmore at Coral Gables, also under Mr Prescott’s brief, 5-star plus and an American National Historic Landmark.
Built in 1926 it was originally part of the Biltmore hotel chain which includes the Frank Lloyd Wright Art Deco property in Phoenix. It served as a hospital during World War II and as a campus of the University of Miami medical school until 1968. In 1987 it became a hotel again owned by the City of Coral Gables. Now managed by the Seaway Hotels Corporation it is part the “Leading Hotels of the World” marketing consortium.
When completed in 1926 the Biltmore was the tallest building in Florida and at one time its pool was said to be the largest in the world. Among the many attractions was swimming instructor, five times Olympic Gold Medal winner and later Tarzan actor, Johnny Weissmuller.
In its heyday, The Biltmore played host to royalty, both Europe's and Hollywood's. The hotel counted the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Al Capone and assorted Roosevelts and Vanderbilts as frequent guests. Franklin D. Roosevelt had a temporary White House office set up at the Hotel for when he vacationed on his fishing trips from Miami. Here many gala balls, grandiose by the pool and weddings were de rigueur as were world class golf tournaments. A product of the Jazz Age, big bands entertained wealthy well-travelled visitors to this American Riviera resort.
The Biltmore made it through the nation's economic lulls in the late 1920s and early 1930s by hosting aquatic galas that kept the hotel in the spotlight and drew the crowds. As many as 3,000 would come out on a Sunday afternoon to watch the synchronized swimmers, bathing beauties and alligator wrestling. Families would attend the shows and many would dress up and go tea dancing afterwards on the hotel's grand terrace to the sounds of swinging orchestras.
But with the onset of World War II, the War Department converted The Biltmore to a hospital. It served the wounded as the Army Air Forces Regional Hospital. Many of the windows were sealed with concrete, and the marble floors covered with Government issue linoleum. Also as the early site of The University of Miami's School of Medicine The Biltmore remained a VA hospital until 1968.
In 1973, through the Historic Monuments Act and Legacy of Parks programme, the City of Coral Gables was granted ownership control of The Biltmore. Undecided as to the structure's future, The Biltmore remained unoccupied for almost 10 years. Then in 1983, the City of Coral Gables oversaw its full restoration to be opened as a grand hotel. Almost four years and US$55m later, The Biltmore opened on 31 December 1987 as a first class hotel and resort. Over 600 guests turned out to honour the historic Biltmore at a black tie affair.
The hotel has been used as a setting for the movie Bad Boys and television programmes like CSI Miami and Miami Vice. The hotel was also a major setting for Ken Wiederhorn's 1977 cult horror film Shock Waves, starring John Carradine and Peter Cushing. The film was made at a time when the hotel was in a state of abandoned disrepair, and featured long camera shots and eerie angles.
Today The Biltmore is a luxury hotel with 273 rooms, including 130 suites, small by American standards but offering a high degree of service. There is fine dining, a quality café the pool and also the wine cellar bar. In the lower ground floor is a large gym and also a purpose built spa. Wi-fi is gratis. The Alhambra and Granada suites in the main building can each take 500 people reception and theatre style, and 320 for a dinner. The adjoining Conference Center of the Americas can take up to 1,000 people for a reception.
In February 2009 the Biltmore opened its very own Culinary Academy. The Biltmore Culinary Academy is a recreational hands-on cooking school with classes for adults and children taught by the hotel’s chefs. The three-hour signature hands-on class holds up to eight students and finishes with a meal made up of recipes made in class.
Adjacent to The Biltmore is a 6,800-yard, 18-hole, par-71, championship golf course. The Biltmore Golf Course was designed in 1925 by Donald Ross, a Scotsman who was the pre-eminent golf designer of his era. Two other challenging courses are close by.
As the creator of Coral Gables, land developer George E. Merrick also founded the University of Miami, and developed the suburbs with strict building codes to ensure the beautiful surroundings. Coral Gables is largely residential, an affluent area graced with broad, planted boulevards and country clubs. Stately Mediterranean homes, Banyan trees and tropical foliage line its quiet streets.
The mile or so walk from the Biltmore to the centre of Coral Gables is a real delight. There are lots of trees and green spaces. All the streets are named after Spanish towns. No commercial properties at all and the traffic is light. Coral Gables itself is built around a street called Miracle Mile, with plenty of designer shops and a real variety of restaurants. It looks a pretty prosperous place with hardly any ‘vacant’ signs. There is even a live theatre, the Actors Playhouse at the Miracle Theater. A hotel courtesy car will take you both ways also.
A short walk from The Biltmore is the Venetian Pool created from a coral rock quarry in 1923 and a children’s paradise. It is also included in the National Register of Historic Places. This 820,000-gallon pool is fed with cool spring water daily, and features two waterfalls, coral caves and grottos. The buildings are Venetian-style architecture, designed by Denman Fink, uncle of George Merrick.
The Biltmore is ideal if what you want is a quiet luxury hotel with sporting facilities. It is a US$20 taxi ride from the airport but with Miami so spread out hiring a car makes for much more sense. And book your car from the UK. Prices on-line, with typically Hertz, are good value and half that charged at Miami International. www.biltmorehotel.com
Malcolm Ginsberg - Editor in Chief