19 APRIL 2021

The Business Travel News
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DO CHECK DAILY.  The travel ban varies all the time.

ON THE SOAPBOX SPECIAL: Airline Shares Worth Buying?

Our veteran contributor, John Burke, who is a financial journalist as well as a travel writer, assesses the outlook for aviation and hospitality shares on stock markets.

There is surprising optimism about travel stocks in spite of the continuing pandemic with its fluctuating statistics, diverse diagnoses and stop-go political measures.  Many shares have rebounded after more than halving in some cases last April or October.

And an amazing paradox is that, although some airlines’ bonds have become junk, American companies leasing aircraft are enjoying a boom, as it is reckoned the safest bet on recovery in the long term.  In the USA, almost $15bn was raised in January. At the same time, venture capitalists leasing out of Guernsey have seen their shares plummet, with Amedeo Air Plus Four hit by discontinuance of the A380 and the troubles at Thai and Emirates.

Yet the stocks of some airlines are already looking healthier.  Among a dozen quoted in New York, four – Delta, American, United and Southwest – are currently being recommended not just to survive but to thrive, although the Arca index did drop 31% due to covid.  Alaska Air is also tipped, while five out of six analysts reckon Air Canada, listed in Toronto, is worth buying, although the shares have halved since 2020.

Qantas shares may take longer to fully recover, despite optimism at Goldman Sachs, although the Australasian travel bubble, due to open on 19 April, has just boosted the shares of all airlines around the Pacific.  Japan Airlines, reconstituted after bankruptcy a decade ago to reach a peak of Y4597 in 2015, is now at Y2268 and off the bottom, but little further gain is expected for now.

Worldwide, more than 50 airlines have become insolvent or bankrupt, ranging from the state-owned South African Airways to LATAM, listed in New York and Santiago.  Typical state bailouts include €9bn for Lufthansa and €3⅓bn for KLM as well as the American Rescue Plan’s $20bn for airports.  Her Majesty’s Government has been less helpful.

It did, however, arrange credit of £2bn to British Airways that partners Iberia and Aer Lingus within International Airlines Group.  Having reached a peak three years ago, IAG shares are back at their 2011 level, yet are up 43% on last April’s low point.  Bank of America notes some positive financial moves, and has IAG among its top picks along with easyJet which Berenberg advises present shareholders to keep.  

Citigroup forecasts that Wizz Air shares will touch 6000p, while Berenberg gives cogent reasons for tipping both this carrier and Ryanair.  It reckons the latter will gain most from downsizing at Alitalia and Norwegian, adding: "Our outlook suggests that 2022 short-haul capacity will be at 85% of 2019 levels, with a full recovery by 2023.”

Even better than brokers’ views are the long-term decisions of investment trusts, as performance suffers if they buy into dud stocks, so it is significant that they overwhelmingly shun cruise lines with their high debt. By contrast, easyJet remains among the top ten holdings of both Aurora and Artemis Alpha, while Temple Bar (a covid convalescent) also has shares because this airline has recovered strongly even if back at its 2012 price.  Mercantile is keeping National Express long-term, although the small stake has been a drag.

Invesco and Law Debenture both have tiny holdings in IAG as part of trusts’ inherent diversification, but most of the 400 largely avoid the travel sector.  Nonetheless, Hilton Worldwide, which has reached a remarkable peak of $127, remains the second-largest holding of Pershing Square, and two Troy trusts hold Intercontinental Hotels.

Yet the shares were accurately downgraded by Deutsche Bank in February, and then by JP Morgan which is also neutral on Accor, being among several brokers to prefer Whitbread, the owner of Premier Inn.   Marriott’s shares are almost back at their $150 peak seen in 2017 and 2019, but the 18 stockbroking analysts forecast they will be anywhere between $127 and $119 in a year’s time.  They similarly hedge their bets on Wetherspoon.

Opinion is even more divided over Eurotunnel (renamed Getlink) which plunged from a peak of €16 back to its 2015 level.  Forecasts from a dozen analysts range from €15.40 to €7.40.  By contrast, Deutsche is the only broker currently looking at Tui which it advises present shareholders to keep.  The shares are down 58% since pre-covid, but are rising erratically.

Most of these facts should reassure frustrated travellers, but those who also invest should beware.  The travel sector is always notoriously fickle, partly for including fashionable and discretionary spending on leisure, but also because it is a hostage to political, climatic and monetary factors.


Paul Robin, once of the Business Travel Show, in a tribute to Prince Philip.

Shapps and Doyle go public

On Tuesday (tomorrow 20 April), and for the first time, secretary of state for transport Grant Shapps, and chief executive of British Airways Sean Doyle will be live for a Zoom gathering open to all hosted by 

Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, will act a moderator.

Titled 'Back to Business – reopening international travel' they will be joined by Keith Glatz, VP International Affairs, Airlines for America, the US equivalent of Airlines UK, and David Evans, Group CEO, Collinson Group, the London-based international aviation services company, who have been at the forefront of Covid-19 protection around the globe.

Following the recent publication of the Global Travel Taskforce report, there are a host of crucial questions to explore, from the return of tourism and business travel, to the reunification of families separated by the pandemic.

When and how can international travel reopen? What approach offers the best route to do so safely, promptly, and to the greatest benefit for passengers and the wider economy? After a year of unprecedented disruption, how soon will things return to normal, and what will normal look like?  Questions will be taken.  

Register here

Air France adds to Heathrow

A summer destination to Nice has been added by Air France from Heathrow operating out of Terminal 2.

This will be a seasonal route starting from 28 June, operating for 10 weeks until the 5 September. The service will be flown four times per week, on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. An additional Saturday flight will operate between 19 July–29 August.

Apart from flights to Paris, this new route represents the first direct Air France flight to Mainland France, and aims to link the UK with popular tourist destinations in the Southern region.

During the summer season, the airline will operate 80 seasonal routes – including 22 new ones – to France, Europe and North Africa from Paris Charles de Gaulle, Paris Orly and the French regions.  Air France will shortly be detailing its long-haul flight schedule for the 2021 summer season.

AirBaltic to Edinburgh

Latvian airline airBaltic announces that starting on 4 June it plans to launch new scheduled flights between Riga and Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. AirBaltic has planned to connect both cities with two weekly flights.

Martin Gauss, chief executive officer of airBaltic, said: “We are delighted to announce our second destination in Scotland, thus expanding connectivity between Latvia and the United Kingdom. In addition to the new route, airBaltic also continues to offer convenient and safe connections between Riga and London, Aberdeen and Manchester in the United Kingdom.”

Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, said: “We are always looking to add new routes and we are excited to be welcoming airBaltic to Edinburgh Airport and connecting the capital cities of Scotland and Latvia. We know people are eager to travel when conditions allow and we want to be able to offer some excitement through new destinations, and Riga is definitely one for people to check out and experience one of the finest cities in the Baltics.”

BA Two out of ten

British Airways gets two out of ten according to Qatar Airways’ Akbar Al Baker.

But that was under the old regime.  

Akbar al Baker, chief executive of the Doha-based airline, is much more enthusiastic regarding Sean Doyle and the new team. ”He’s a very good leader.  He has my confidence.  British Airways will come back to its old glory.”  

In an enthralling interview conducted via Zoom the engaging Al Baker was as controversial as ever with a dig at arch enemy Sir Tim Clark, a near neighbour at Emirates, and his huge fleet of 122 Airbus A380s.  Soon Qatar Airways will only have five, presumably retained for the ‘blue ribbon’ Doha – Heathrow route.

One initiative that Doyle has introduced is vaccine passports. Al Baker thinks BA is getting ahead in that area. He is doing the same, testing the new International Air Transport Association (IATA)’vax app’ on flights between Doha and Istanbul. Passengers upload their vaccine status and PCR test results and can, if regulations allow, avoid quarantine. “Coronavirus is going to be a fact of life. We’ll have to live with it,” he said.

Premium Economy is not for Qatar Airways.  “It’s the most uncomfortable seat. You can’t rest your feet on the floor. And they give you the same meal, the same bottle of wine, or whatever they give in Economy.”  

Qatar Airways owns 25% of IAG, British Airways’ parent company.

The Sunday Times 18 April 2021.

Also see AND FINALLY in this week's BTN.

Downtown Toronto Airport to re-open

Porter Airlines has set 21 June for the reopening of flights from Toronto Billy Bishop City.  The downtown airport has been closed to all but emergency flights since the start of the pandemic.  Connect Airlines is set to arrive in the autumn.

“In recent weeks, there has been open discussion by government officials about easing travel restrictions based on expectations that vaccination programmes will be well advanced in the US and Canada by early summer,” said Michael Deluce, president and CEO of Porter Airlines. “We recognize that short-term public health measures have been enhanced recently in certain jurisdictions. At the same time, we are looking ahead to summer and preparing for the possibility of some travel restrictions unwinding. We will begin the process of rebuilding our operations as soon as conditions allow based on government decisions.”

Porter previously set 19 May as its tentative restart date. Operations were temporarily suspended on 21 March 2020, due to Covid-19.

Waltzing Matilda Aviation, a Boston-based jet charter operator, has announced the launch of Connect Airlines.  The new air carrier says it will commence operations in October 2021 using DHC Q400 aircraft. No route information yet except a press release to say it will connect Toronto Billy Bishop City Airport with airports in the Northeast and Midwest United States.

Drive-in movies at Luton Airport

Luton Airport has teamed up with Nightflix Outdoor Cinema to bring the big screen to the airport, as lockdown restrictions are eased further.

The long-stay car park will host the Nightflix Outdoor Cinema for three weeks, from Wednesday 28 April to Friday 21 May. It will screen a diverse range of hit movies, including much-loved classics Mamma Mia and Grease, alongside recent family favourites like The Greatest Showman, Frozen II and the latest blockbuster, Scoob!

Viewers will be able to watch the films on the huge, outdoor cinema screen, from the comfort of their vehicle. Nightflix will also be on hand to ensure customers can enjoy food, snacks and drinks whilst watching the film, which will be delivered directly to their vehicle.

Christine Penrose, marketing manager, Nightflix, said: “Following the incredible demand we’ve seen with our Nightflix drive-in cinema events, we are really looking forward to bringing this experience to a much wider audience, which has been well received so far after a long year of lockdown! We want to treat them with their favourite films, drinks, and delicious food in a safe environment. With the protective measures we have put in place, we are sure everyone will be able to enjoy their evening out with us.’'

Mark Jennings, head of commercial development at Luton Airport, said: “It’s great to have Nightflix at the airport. Hosting the open-air cinema is another way we are contributing to the local community throughout the pandemic. I for one have really missed the cinema over the last 12 months and can’t wait to enjoy some classics with my family!”

The event takes place in the long-stay car park which is well signposted.  Cost is £29 per car.

Flybe flies again?

Using the goodwill of the bankrupt Flybe a new airline has been announced calling itself Flybe Ltd after acquiring the remaining assets of the previous carrier.

It is a change of name for Thyme Opco who recently appointed the much respected former GB Airways CEO and BA executive Kevin Hatton (76) as chairman.  

Chris Hope, recruited from easyJet by the old Flybe company, has been retained during these turbulent times and is now COO (effectively operations director) at the new airline.

Flybe stopped flying 5 March 2020 prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

In an announcement last week Flybe Ltd failed to give any route or base details and at this time only retains a single elderly leased Bombardier Q400.

The airline appears to still be holding the Heathrow slots for Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Newquay, which if confirmed by the CAA could be valuable.  Birmingham and Manchester might also be bases for continental flights, both airports successfully served by the old Flybe company.

Other carriers have taken up 42 of the 46 domestic routes from the previous airline.

A statement on behalf of a Flybe Ltd spokesman issued by the joint administrators, EY-Parthenon Turnaround and Restructuring Strategy (TRS) Partner, said: “Subject to further success with vaccinations and relaxation of travel restrictions, we plan to launch a new and much improved Flybe sometime this summer on many of our former routes where there remains a critical need for a strong, reliable, and customer-focused airline.

While our company will initially be smaller than before, we intend to grow, create valuable jobs, and make significant contributions to essential regional connectivity in the UK and EU.”

BTN reported 15 March that the operating licence for Flybe would be revoked in 14 days from 9 March.  However, EY appealed the CAA's decision to revoke to the secretary of state for transport, The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP. That appeal has yet to be adjudicated. This means that the old licence is still valid and it was this "loophole" that allowed the transfer of assets to the new company which as things stand still own the valuable slots.

France to ban short-haul?

France’s National Assembly has approved a draft law that would see internal flights on certain routes banned where an alternative to travel by rail taking less than two and a half hours is available. The proposed law would affect routes between Paris and Nantes, Lyon and Bordeaux, for example.

France’s Citizens' Convention for Climate, a consumer group that provides guidance on how the country can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, had called for the ban to apply to flights where rail alternatives of less than four hours exist. However, the transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said this would not be fair on landlocked regions such as the Massif Central.

The vote was carried by 56 votes to 14. The National Assembly is the lower house of France’s parliament and the law would have to be ratified by the upper house, the Senate.  Many of the regional high-speed trains call at the Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) station.

At the start of the pandemic, Air France received a bailout from the French government that was conditional on it not competing with the country’s high-speed train services on journeys under two and a half hours.

By way of a comparison, if the same logic were to be applied in the UK to Manchester, Heathrow would be banned, and there would be a loss of connecting traffic.  

Teesside to Heathrow becomes marginal and UK domestic flights into Gatwick would be OK, likewise both Newcastle and Newquay into Heathrow.

Gatwick and British Airways

British Airways has confirmed that the majority of its Gatwick short-haul services will continue to operate from Heathrow until the end of October.

The media was alerted to the news by this tweet by @LondonAirTravel, which said: “British Airways will not operate any short-haul flights at Gatwick until 30 October 2021. Short-haul flights were due to resume at the airport on 30 June.”

BA has been vague with its response and a further request for more information not responded to: “Until the end of October, most of our short-haul flights will continue to operate from Heathrow. This enables us to ensure a smooth, uninterrupted, and efficient operation across our business at a time when demand is yet to return and international travel restrictions remain in place.

“We’re proactively letting customers know and recommend they check their booking on prior to travel.”

Long-haul flights will continue to operate from the south London airport, as does a domestic service to Glasgow.  Sister company Vueling has filed for services to Paris CDG for the winter period.

Heathrow chaos & Commons Transport Select Committee

It was supposed to be to discuss the Global Travel Taskforce report but last week’s Commons Transport Select Committee hearing was dominated by Heathrow’s chief solutions officer Chris Garton with an outburst concerning border controls.

Garton told the Committee: “The situation is becoming untenable…if you are made to queue for two or three hours it is not something you want to do and we are even having to involve the police service to help us. We want to see that bottleneck removed as quickly as possible. It is a problem today and it will become a much bigger problem after 17 May.”  His inference is that at present the airport is running at about 15% of normal.

Also offering comment to the MPs was Brian Strutton, general secretary, BALPA, who said he was “bitterly disappointed” with the report.  Simon McNamara, UK & Ireland country manager, IATA, explained that he had hoped the Taskforce plan would be “the start of a sprint to the finish but it's turned out to be another milestone.”  Mark Tanzer, chief executive, ABTA, told the members that the plan for reopening foreign travel "is overcautious and doesn't recognise the huge change that vaccination has created."

Committee chairman and Conservative MP Huw Merriman tore into the final guest Robert Courts, minister for aviation, Department for Transport, and well respected by the industry.  He appeared to be just as frustrated as his peers.  “Passengers don't know which countries they can fly to and what the rules will be, and nor does the industry,” said Mr Merriman.

Hotel Week London

With the end of the lockdown in sight some 35 of London’s finest hotels are getting together to launch a new marketing programme to help the capital on its way to complete revitalisation.

The brainchild of Jonathan Sloan from MMGY Global the initiative will take place 28 May – 6 June: “There has never been a better time to come and explore London.  As the hotel sector reopens there is a unique window for domestic travellers to experience the city without the normal influx of international visitors and offering the opportunity to support London hotels that have been particularly affected over the last 12 months. Hotel Week London gives us the opportunity to escape our homes while enjoying super deals from some of the capital’s finest hotels.”

Participating properties include luxury hotels typified by Dukes London in the heart of St James’, the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill in Portman Square, the Corinthia and the Dorchester, as well as more affordable options, including The Tower Hotel, The Standard, Ruby Lucy Hotel and Mama Shelter London Shoreditch.

As well as offering exclusive rates available during Hotel Week London only, each of the participating hotels has designed its own experience or added value activity, ranging from pizza-making classes, transfers by vintage car from London stations, to room upgrades, Michelin-starred dining and cocktail-creation classes.

The last 12 months clearly have been an incredibly tough time for the UK tourism industry and in particular the London hotel sector. By joining forces and working together as a collective, Hotel Week London sends out a stronger message that the city is back, open for business and ready to welcome back British visitors.

Hotels taking part in Hotel Week London:

45 Park Lane 100 Queensgate
Amba Hotel Charing Cross
Andaz Liverpool Street
The Athenaeum
The Biltmore Mayfair
Browns Hotel London
The Cadogan
Conrad London St James
Curio Collection by Hilton
The Dorchester
Dukes London
Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane
Great Scotland Yard
Hard Rock Hotel
Hilton London Bankside
Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill
InterContinental Park Lane
Kimpton Fitzroy
The Landmark London
The Lanesborough
London Hilton on Park Lane
LXR Hotels by Hilton
Mama Shelter London Shoreditch
Marriott London Grosvenor Square
Marriott London Park Lane
Novotel London Canary Wharf
Pullman London St Pancras
Rosewood London
Ruby Lucy
St Pancras Renaissance Hotel London
The Savoy
Sofitel London St James
The Standard
The Tower Hotel
The Waldorf Hilton

Loganair to Exeter

Now calling itself, quite rightly, the UK’s largest regional airline, Loganair has announced a major step in connecting East Anglia with the south west of England through the launch of a new air route between Norwich and Exeter.   

The 70min flight on Loganair’s 49-seat Embraer 145 jets represents a much more convenient way to travel than rail connections via London or an exhausting 320-mile road journey, particularly difficult on packed roads during the summer season.

The service, which starts on 12 July, will operate a four-flights-per-week service across the summer season on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday – moving to Monday and Friday flights from September onwards.

The service links existing Loganair destinations.  Norwich is already served from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Jersey, and Exeter from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle.

Losses for Luton airlines

Wizz is the latest Luton Airport airline to announce massive losses.  The London Stock Market listed but Hungarian-based carrier said in a statement that the figure up to the end of March could exceed €590m.

The Ryanair negative sum is €850m, this for an airline that is four times as large.  The third major Luton low-cost operator, easyJet, posted a mammoth loss of more than £1.6m

Despite these appalling figures Wizz Air UK presses on and from 22 June, will operate flights twice weekly to the popular Mediterranean hotspot of Antalya in Turkey, and from 22 September, flights will commence three times a week to the historic Polish city of Rzeszow. With the addition of these new destinations, Wizz Air will now operate a total of 74 routes from its Luton base.

Marella Cruises for the UK

TUI-owned Marella Cruises is for the first time to base a ship in the UK for the summer season.

Marella Explorer will set sail from Southampton on UK itineraries from 25 June, with port calls including Belfast, Dublin and Liverpool. Marella Explorer 2, the cruise line’s adult only ship, will also offer UK sailings from Newcastle from Saturday 10 July.  BTN calculates that up to 14 cruise itineraries will be offered by cruise lines out of UK ports from August onwards.  

Marella Explorer will sail seven new UK itineraries during the summer season, perfect for those looking to explore via sea the history and culture of British cities and towns. All itineraries will have recommended excursions from an onboard destination services team to offer guests options to make the most of their time ashore.  

For both ships anyone aged 18-years and older will be required to have had two Covid-19 jabs at least seven days before travelling.  All under 18-year-olds, excluding infants under the age of two who will not be able to sail as they are exempt from testing, will be asked to have a lateral flow test.

All guests must also provide proof of a negative lateral flow test before boarding the ships at the start of the cruise.  

Cruisers can still enjoy the same great facilities onboard including the luxury Champneys Spa, a wide range of dining experiences, fitness classes, award winning entertainment and of course, family friendly activities onboard Marella Explorer such as the indoor cinema or mini-golf.

Marella Cruises will also continue the pause in operations for Marella Discovery and Marella Discovery 2 until 31 July. These ships are due to homeport in Palma and Corfu this summer. See also BTN 4 June 2018.

Monarch Airlines collapse

Reports in various national newspapers would seem to indicate that the collapse of Monarch Airlines in 2017 will have cost the taxpayer £40m.

Greybull – which has also presided over failures at Comet, British Steel and M Local – bought Monarch in 2014.  Papers released by auditor KPMG show the controversial turnaround group lost £25m from the administration process, which was completed last month.

As a result Greybull will not contribute anything at all to the repatriation bill, which cost around £550 per passenger, a very high figure, but as an industry person pointed out, mostly a two-way flight with one leg empty.

The Luton Airport based carrier, founded in 1967, had been struggling for years to keep up with the rapid rise of budget airlines that changed the way holiday flights were sold.

Fortunes worsened when a string of terrorist attacks, including in Tunisia in 2015, hit bookings and a fall in the value of the pound raised costs following the Brexit vote.

In 2019 Thomas Cook and its airline also went into administration leaving 150,000 Britons stranded abroad.  How much was recovered from these passengers is not known.

NYX Hotel London

Israeli-owned Leonardo Hotels UK & Ireland has announced the opening of its first NYX Hotel in the UK on 17 May.

NYX Hotel London Holborn is the 11th hotel in the group’s global city centre portfolio that includes properties in Tel Aviv, Madrid, Milan, Munich, Bilbao and Prague.

With this new hotel the company now has 16 properties around the UK.

Located on the corner of Southampton Street and Theobalds Road, the Holborn property stands 10 storeys tall with a dramatic piece of street art, part mural, part graffiti, by Dan Kitchener running down the entire length of the building evoking its location. As well as 213 luxurious bedrooms and suites, there is the all-day late night NYX bar and restaurant,  and, opening in 2022, a rooftop events space.

Bedrooms and suites, located down moodily lit corridors, feature eye-catching artwork and modern furniture, from the large, padded leather headboards to the teak sideboards. Additional touches include fully stocked mini Smeg fridges, Nespresso coffee machines, and bespoke ‘Dream’ beds and feather and down duvets.

The 126-cover NYX bar and restaurant, open from breakfast until 03:00 on most nights has been designed with myriad spaces suitable for different size groups and varied occasions.  In the basement is the Rena Spa, featuring a 13-metre Greco-Roman indoor swimming pool with retractable flooring to create a private events space, alongside a steam room and sauna, state of the art fitness centre and luxurious treatment suites.

Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) news

With unique, unprecedented access to frontline staff a new study by award-winning training provider Travel Uni, was carried out during March in the first of a regular series of ‘Frontline Findings’ surveys.

Designed to provide important insights into how frontline travel staff are impacted by the epidemic and how the industry is adapting as travel gradually returns this year, a total of nearly 400 UK travel agents responded to the survey.

Key workplace findings revealed that 70% of travel agents were working from home due to Covid, 49% were working reduced hours and 14% were job searching with 37% still furloughed overall.

PATA’s training spokesperson Ian Dockreay said: “There has been much speculation about the impact on the industry in the last year and how travel will resume but research like this is based on fact, from frontline staff themselves. Insights like these are of great interest to our members as it helps shape training, sales and marketing plans and give reassurance that their destinations are in demand.”

The survey also highlighted the vital role travel agents play in booking holidays. Ranking client needs in order of importance, ‘reassurance’, ‘advice’ and ‘knowledge’ came ahead of ‘price’ and ‘availability’ as the key benefits customers seek in using an agent to book their travel. “This result clearly shows how much the public need travel agents’ expertise to guide them in their options and choices and with this in mind training remains a core focus for PATA to help develop regional experts,” added Dockreay.

On the subject of travel trade training, the survey showed that 91% of agents rated training as ‘very important’ in their ability to do their job well. Almost half (45%) of agents spend 1-3 hours a week and over a quarter (26%) 3 or more hours per week training online to ‘improve their knowledge’. E-Learning continues to dominate as the method most preferred for training with webinars becoming more popular recently as well, due to lockdown.

Premier Inn central London

Whitbread, the UK’s largest hospitality business, is adding two prime locations to its network of ‘hub by Premier Inn’ hotels this spring with new openings in central London, at Soho (Berwick Street) and Shoreditch (Quaker Street).

The 110 room ‘hub by Premier Inn’ London Soho will be Whitbread’s first hotel in the vibrant area half way between Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road Tube stations and within walking distance of Piccadilly Circus.

Included as part of the wider transformational redevelopment of 90-104 Berwick Street, hub by Premier Inn Soho features a double-storey entrance atrium and a guest lounge on the lower ground level.

The development also includes 12 new luxury private apartments, four family-sized affordable apartments, a residents’ roof garden and a new retail destination comprising 12 exciting new shops for independent retail and food & beverage businesses, as well as a Co-op supermarket.

At Quaker Street in Shoreditch, Whitbread converted a former Victorian stable block into a 246-bedroom hub by Premier Inn, retaining the gabled facade of the original building. On opening in late June, the Quaker Street hotel will be Whitbread’s second hub by Premier Inn hotel in the Shoreditch catchment and the 14th across the UK.

Tallinn Radisson

Radisson Hotel Group has opened the Palace Hotel Tallinn, located at the entrance to the historic Old Town.  Built getting on for 100 years ago and respectfully renovated, this monument of national architectural heritage is the first Radisson Individuals in the Baltic region.   

Built in 1937, the Palace Hotel Tallinn was designed by the Estonian architect, Elmar Lohk, and is recognised for 1930s architectural style combining functionalism with influences of the Chicago school and traditional art.

It offers 79 rooms and suites, including a Presidential Suite stretching across 150m2 which consists of a large studio with seating area for eight guests, a kitchen area with dining table for six, sauna, private office and meeting room. The hotel’s 50m2 air-conditioned fitness centre is equipped with large mirrors and cardiovascular machines by LifeFitness as well as an indoor swimming pool and spa with Turkish bath, jacuzzi, steam bath and sauna.

Update on Norwegian

The Oslo County Court has approved Norwegian's reconstruction plan in Norway. Reaching this milestone means that both the group's reconstruction processes in Ireland and Norway have now been approved by the courts.

The next big step is to raise up to just over $700m in fresh capital before emerging from bankruptcy protection and evolving as a purely European networked low-cost airline.  Norse Atlantic, with an involvement by former Norwegian chairman Bjorn Kise, has taken over any long-haul aspirations.  

“We are very pleased with this important positive decision by the court. Once we have passed these two biggest legal milestones we can look forward to continuing the work of raising new equity.” says Jacob Schram, CEO of Norwegian.

“I stand very proud of the achievements that Norwegian has accomplished throughout this period and I am grateful to work alongside so many colleagues that have shown such unwavering commitment and determination for us to succeed. At the same time, I wish to recognise the crucial support that we have received which has enabled us to continue our business.”

The rulings in both Ireland and Norway become final when the planned equity has been obtained. The capital raising is expected to be completed during the month of May.

ON TOUR: For somewhere different head to Iceland

Touch down in Iceland, step outside the ultra-modern Scandinavian-style terminal building at Keflavik airport, the gateway for Reykjavik, and, as you peer through the gloom out of the taxi window you could be forgiven for thinking you have landed in a place that time and civilisation forgot, writes our editor-at-large Jeff Mills.
Drive from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik and you pass not so much a landscape as what looks like the contents of the earth’s stomach after a riotous night on the tiles – volcanic rock and lava, wet with litres of sulphurous water.

It is not until you start to pass the odd hut, presumably used by those unfortunates with the job of tending the hardy animals which inhabit this inhospitable part of the world, that you realise you are not only still on the map after all but are about to approach the outskirts of Reykjavik which, as the local tourist office blurb proudly and accurately points out, is “a city like no other”.

Some may say the city of Reykjavik suddenly appears like a beacon amidst the grey of its surrounding countryside but this would not be true. You find its colourful centre only after you have braved the unlovely, though thankfully far from extensive, sprawl of its concrete-block-infested suburbs built, no doubt, with protection against the elements as a higher priority than elegant design.

Reykjavik, the most northerly of the world’s capital cities, may be something of a backwater in the grand scheme of things, but it does have charm aplenty, even though you may have to look below the surface to discover it.  A visit of a few days will reward you generously.
Perhaps in an effort to combat the dark and dismal days of winter and early spring, the nightlife here is among the most vibrant you will have come across anywhere. There is a thriving restaurant and bar scene making this an ideal choice for a long weekend with a difference.
Spend a day or so acclimatising to the all-pervading smell of sulphur from the steaming hot water which gushes from the bowels of the earth at various points in and around the city (and which provides both hot water and central heating to the population) and you will start to appreciate the rustic charm of the place.

There are few, if any, other cities on earth where you can stay in a comfortable hotel only minutes away from a geothermally-heated public swimming pool where you can relax in bath-temperature water as the air temperature plunges to sub-zero levels.

There is a bustling harbour, though it is slightly less bustling since the ban on whaling came into effect, with a healthy fishing industry, a good starting point for a tour of the city’s main sights, most of which can be comfortably visited on foot.

For a first taste of Reykjavik head for the area around Laekjartorg and the adjoining Austurstraeti pededstrianised area nearby, a favourite meeting place for locals during the day when they stroll around or sit on benches eating their lunchtime sandwiches.

At night the area takes on a very different personality, particularly in the early hours of the morning when the dozens of bars and clubs spill their revellers onto the street at closing time, often as late as 05:00, to continue their party in the open air. It is all mostly good humoured, though, if a touch noisy.

Head south from Austurstraeti and you will come to another small square, the original centre of Reykjavik before the city spread in all directions. It is in this area that you will find two of the city’s most important buildings, though you would be hard pressed to recognise them as such from their appearance, the Albingshusid, or parliament house, and the Domkirkjan, Reykjavik’s Lutheran cathedral, built of stone but clad in corrugated iron to help protect it from the elements.  

These are the areas to visit for eating and drinking, both are well served with a large variety of restaurants, cafes and bars but do not expect too many bargains here, this city is one of the most expensive in Europe when it comes to eating out and strict alcohol laws make drinking a very expensive option. Instead do what the locals do and have a couple from your private supplies before you go out.

In a city not overburdened with good-quality hotel rooms, the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel and the Saga Island Hotel provide some of the best options, though there are a number of guest houses and bed-and-breakfast establishments if you really want to stick to a tight budget.

Of the two the Saga, about a 10-15 minutes’ walk from the city centre and right by the University of Iceland, is probably the better bet with just over 200 guestrooms, all with en-suite bathrooms and the usual facilities you would expect in a good quality, though not luxurious, international-standard hotel.  Either would be more than adequate as the base for a few days sampling the delights of Reykjavik.
If you enjoy getting back to nature you have arrived in the right place, much of Iceland’s interior is totally uninhabited to this day. You will be seeing it just as it was perhaps 1,000 years ago, so make sure you set out with adequate maps and emergency supplies before you go exploring too far from the city.

If you are feeling slightly less adventurous, or indeed if you are suffering a hangover after all the partying in Reykjavik, make your first stop the Blue Lagoon, the natural hot pool, about 40 minutes’ drive from the capital which sprang to prominence when a worker at a nearby power plant who suffered from psoriasis began bathing in the lagoon and found that his skin condition improved significantly, due it is said to the pool’s unique mineral content and ecosystem consisting of blue-green algae.
These days the lagoon, which started life almost by accident as a convenient place to pump the waste water from the nearby power plant, has become one of Iceland’s major tourist attractions. New restaurants capable of seating up to 500 people are being constructed and there are even plans for a Blue Lagoon hotel and spa.
And when you have had enough of taking the cure take a tour of the Icelandic countryside, one of the last remaining places on earth where nature has yet to be tamed. Make sure you head back to the city in good time though, you would not want to get stuck in this wilderness even in the late spring and summer when the sun hardly sets.

You can fly to Keflavik, which serves Reykjavik, about 45 minutes away by road, with a number of airlines including British Airways, easyJet, and Icelandair. Flying time is just under three hours.

AND FINALLY is Qatar Airways Akbar Al Baker

Asked by The Sunday Times John Arlidge if British Airways would come back as “The World’s Favourite Airline” in yesterday’s paper Al Baker was quick with his retort.  “I cannot say that because that is Qatar Airways!”

See BA – Two out of ten in this week's BTN.