14 OCTOBER 2019

The Business Travel News
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COMMENT: Alex Cruz to open air travel industry debate

The timing for AIRLINES 2050 could not be better, proceeded by the Queen’s Speech today with a possible mention of future safeguards covering a Thomas Cook-style fiasco. Transport secretary Grant Shapps is also a speaker on Thursday.  The full listing is below, as is the programme.

Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade offers this COMMENT preview, zeroing in on the sustainability challenge facing airlines, one of the key themes of the gathering.

“As UK and overseas airlines gather at the Queen Elizabeth Centre on Thursday (17 October) to take stock of the past 12 months, we do so at a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty within the sector.

Foremost in our minds will be the challenge that has been laid down on sustainability. Parliament has this year legislated to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, and the Committee on Climate Change has recommended to ministers that aviation should be included within these targets.

Airlines supported the net zero legislation because we recognise that the world has changed. Governments – and passengers – have made it known that for aviation to continue to grow it must demonstrate it can do so in a responsible manner. We get that – and are working incredibly hard to demonstrate that net zero is the right target at the right time, and within reach by 2050. The exam question set by ministers can be answered.

The alternative is an industry that will increasingly be seen as a problem child. As other sectors in the economy start to decarbonise, aviation’s share of global emissions – currently just 2% – will start to rise. This could be to anything from 4% to 25% by 2050. Clearly this would be unsustainable and therefore aviation is likely to come under increasing scrutiny as its carbon impact relative to other sectors increases.

The good news, however, is that we have already made an excellent start in responding to the challenge. The UK government played a key role three years ago in establishing the Carbon Offsetting Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which from next year will address increases in total emissions from international aviation.

It is forecast that CORSIA will mitigate around 2.5bn tonnes of CO2 and generate more than $40bn for climate projects between 2021 and its end date of 2035. This is an annual average of 164m tonnes, equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions from the Netherlands, all sectors included.

A truly historical achievement. Before its signature, no other single sector had come together to agree a global market-based measure to address increases in carbon – and we should celebrate that. Its importance is strengthened in that it has helped facilitate further international steps that are consistent with the Paris Agreement – namely agreement at ICAO to explore a long-term goal for aviation CO2 emissions beyond 2035. Again, we pay tribute to the leadership shown by the Department for Transport in prioritising these discussions at ICAO.

Of course, international action is no excuse for domestic inaction, and in the UK we have already been successful in decoupling growth in aviation from growth in emissions, thanks largely to the tens of billions of pounds invested by airlines in the latest engine technology.

Hundreds of new planes have entered service – with many more on order – and these emit substantially less carbon than their predecessors. To use one example, the Airbus A320neo can provide 20% less fuel burn savings by 2020 compared to the A320ceo.

Looking ahead, we see opportunities to build on this success – but this is where government support will be so vital. Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), for example, could present real growth opportunities for the UK. They result in 70% less lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than fossil jet fuel and are a vital “bridge” to game-changing electric planes.

Critically, SAF are proven technologically (Virgin Atlantic completed its maiden commercial journey using sustainable aviation fuel in 2018), but now need to be scaled up and commercialised. British Airways has announced investment in a sustainable jet fuel plant in Humberside but we can go further, with ministerial help.

For £150m of government investment we could fund a number of commercial plants across the UK utilising wastes and residues to manufacture SAF, as well as a UK centre of excellence for SAF development. The potential prize is huge: more than 5,000 jobs, gross added value of £700m-plus and an uptake of SAF of around 30% by 2050. Again, these are existing – not theoretical – technologies, and with the right support we could see the UK become a world-leader in their development. 

Airspace modernisation, meanwhile, has the potential to reduce emissions still further. Through the use of more modern airspace that uses satellite-based navigation to promote more direct routes, and better operating procedures, including the removal of stacking near airports and the release of more controlled airspace, we could reduce carbon by between 9% and 14% through to 2050. Government should continue pushing for modernisation and take a clear lead in selling its strategic importance to the whole of the UK.

Achieving all this will require substantial collaboration across all parts of the UK aviation sector, and accompanying substantial investment. It will mean focusing on the huge potential for the UK to become a world leader in new innovation and the many exciting developments around engine technology and the new emerging carbon markets. Working with government, we can achieve this together – including meeting the all-important net zero target.


Aerotel arrives at Heathrow

Plaza Premium Group has followed up on the arrival of one of its Aerotel round-the-clock hotels in Bejing’s New Daxing Airport (BTN last week), with an opening at Heathrow Terminal 3 Arrivals.

The two-storey facility boasts 82 guestrooms with flexible booking packages and is open 24/7 for check-in and check-out. Facilities include all-day dining and a library lounge.

The hotel is a 5min walk from the nearest Heathrow Central Area bus station, 6min from Heathrow Express and offers access to Terminals 2, 4 and 5 within 10min.

Plaza Premium founder and CEO Song Hoi-see said: “Our award-winning lounges at Heathrow Terminals 2, 3, 4 and 5 have been well received for the variety of services they offer.

“Our international guests are now asking for a comfortable space to sleep when they land early or late at night, while London residents taking morning and late-night flights want a spot to chill or power-nap before boarding. Aerotel is our answer.”

The hotel offers rooms in three categories – Solo Plus, Double Plus and Family – and can be booked for 6hr, 9hr, 12hr and overnight packages. Services include wi-fi, newspapers and magazines, and multi-channel TVs.

Airportr Manchester baggage deal

A new home baggage check-in and delivery service for passengers has been introduced by Manchester Airport in what it calls a landmark partnership with Airportr.

The baggage company also operates at Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton but Manchester marks the first time it has collaborated with an airport operator to create an integrated service allowing passengers to check-in baggage before arriving at the airport.

Travellers can have luggage collected from their homes before the date of departure, meaning they can travel to the airport bag-free, head straight for security and reunite with their bags in the reclaim area at their final destinations.

Airport operator MAG will be the first in the UK to use the Airportr service within its own infrastructure, with baggage processed in a dedicated facility away from the traditional terminal check-in areas.

It will also be the first to digitise the service, meaning passengers can book and pay online via Manchester Airport’s website.

MAG Airport Services CEO Andrew Harrison said: “The new system is a ‘win-win’, enhancing the passenger experience with an at-home service and unlocking operational efficiencies for MAG by reducing the amount of baggage processed in the terminal.”

All-electric buses for Glasgow Airport

Glasgow has become the first UK airport to introduce zero-emission electric buses to its car park operation.

The three-strong fleet, built in Scotland by Alexander Dennis (ADL), will replace diesel vehicles that shuttle to and from the long-stay facility.

Introduction of the BYD ADL Enviro200EV buses was made possible thanks to a £450,000 Green Bus Fund support grant from Transport Scotland.

Airport managing director Mark Johnston said: “These state-of-the-art vehicles will play an important role in our continued efforts to create a more sustainable business and contribute significantly to help to reduce our carbon emissions.

“Moving to full-electric buses cuts the carbon emissions associated with passenger travel to and from our car park from 143 tonnes a year to zero, a reduction further supported by the fact the airport’s electricity is also supplied via renewable energy.”

In a linked development, the airport earlier this year invested £200,000 to deploy eight petrol/electric plug-in vehicles across its airfield operations (BTN 11 March).

The launch of the airport’s new electric fleet coincided with Scotland’s Climate Week 2019, with events organised in schools, colleges and workplaces across the country to encourage people to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

American sets new MAX return date

After several postponements, a new date for a return to service of the Boeing B737 MAX was set by American Airlines last week, saying it anticipated software updates to the aircraft would lead to re-certification this year and resumption of commercial flights in early 2020.

Noting it was in "continuous contact" with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Transportation (DOT), the airline said it expected to phase in the MAX for commercial service from 16 January.

Passengers previously booked on MAX flights up to 6 January are being accommodated automatically on the same flights operated by a B737-800 with the same seat configuration. No additional rebooking is needed.

For those previously booked on MAX flights from 7-15 January, most will be accommodated on the same flights operated by a different aircraft type, which American said may include a B737-800 or an Airbus.

The company added: “American expects to slowly phase in the MAX for commercial service and will increase flying on the aircraft throughout January and into February. Additional refinements to our schedule may occur through 12 February. Affected customers will be contacted directly”.

■ The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) has filed a lawsuit against Boeing for “deliberately misleading” the airline and its pilots about the MAX.

BA in new carbon pledge

Mandatory carbon offsetting on all UK domestic flights is being introduced by  British Airways in partnership with the charity Pure Leapfrog from next year, mirroring a similar recent move by Air France.

BA says its decision will cover up to 75 domestic flights a day between London and 10 UK cities and it will invest in verified carbon reduction projects worldwide, including renewable energy, rainforest protection and reforestation programmes.

The carrier says it will offset on passengers’ behalf for domestic services, while customers on international flights will continue to have the option to pay to offset emissions.

In addition, BA says from next year its carbon emissions on international flights will be capped through the United Nation’s offsetting scheme, and BA’s parent company IAG has committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

IAG says it will achieve this goal “through numerous environmental initiatives, including investing more than US$400m in the development of sustainable aviation fuels over the next 20 years”.

■ Latest UN statistics show the aviation industry is responsible for around 2.5% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, compared with the 10% the fashion industry contributes.

BBGA push for apprenticeships

A successful pathway to a world of future aviation opportunities lies in a revitalisation of apprenticeships, a newly released manifesto from the British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) highlighted last week.

The association was kick-starting a campaign to encourage science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for the new generation, calling on government and the private sector to come together on the project.

The BBGA said the objective would be to create more successful initiatives such as that pioneered by Stansted Airport College (below), which has just enrolled 429 full-time trainees and 52 apprentices in its second year.

Representing nearly 200 UK business and general aviation companies, BBGA said at a special Tomorrow’s Workforce event its first priority was to align with Aviation Strategy 2050 and quantify what the UK workforce needs over the next 30 years.

With creation of aviation services apprenticeships as the goal, the BBGA is also seeking development of all streams including flight operations, ground operations and airworthiness, given business aviation per se does not feature in syllabuses.

“The urgent requirement for more commercial pilots is well known, but other roles in less recognised ‘aviation services’ – aircraft maintenance, ATC, ground and flight operations – are deteriorating as the UK faces a demographic cliff edge as babyboomers retire,” the association warned.

Business Traveller awards for Qatar Airways

The 2019 Business Traveller Awards last week saw Qatar Airways taking an impressive four titles, being named Best Airline, as well as winning in the Best Long-Haul Airline, Best Business Class and Best Middle Eastern Airline categories.

British Airways again took awards for Best Airport Lounge with its Concorde Room at  Heathrow T5 and Best Frequent Flyer Programme, while oneworld was named Best Airline Alliance.

Singapore Airlines won three awards for Best Economy Class, Best Asian Airline and Best Cabin Staff, Emirates was named Best First Class, Virgin Atlantic Best Premium Economy Class, and Easyjet Best Low-Cost Airline.

Delta Air Lines was named Best North American Airline, South African Airways Best African Airline and Aeroflot Best Eastern European Airline.

Singapore’s Changi Airport won the Best Airport Worldwide award, while Amsterdam Schiphol took the Europe prize and Heathrow was named Best Airport for Tax-Free Shopping.

Intercontinental Hotels and Resorts won Best Business Hotel Brand Worldwide and Best Business Hotel in the UK for the Intercontinental London Park Lane, while Hilton took three awards for Best Business Hotel Brand in the UK and Europe.

The Peninsula Hotels bagged the award for Best Luxury Hotel Brand, while the Peninsula Hong Kong won Best Business Hotel Worldwide. Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts was named the Best Business Hotel Brand in Asia-Pacific.

BTN must dispute an award to BA for the Best Economy Class when all you get is a seat. Swiss and KLM are far better. and even Air Antwerp serves tea and biscuits.

Busy summer ahead for Ryanair

More than 500 routes throughout Europe have gone on sale with the launch of Ryanair’s UK summer 2020 schedule. Fourteen of the routes are new, including unusual destinations such as Cluj in Romania and Terceira in Portugal.

Chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs (below) said the schedule, which also includes more flights on 46 other routes, was expected to deliver 46.3m customers a year and support 35,000 jobs at Ryanair’s 21 UK airports.

Of the new routes in the summer line-up, Edinburgh – Bydgoszcz will have two services a week; Manchester – Pisa, two; Stansted – Cluj, three; Stansted – Kosice, three and Stansted – Terceira, one.

Nine new summer services will include Exeter – Alicante (two a week); Edinburgh –Bucharest (three); Stansted – Dresden (three) and Essaouira (two); Luton – Krakow (four) and Seville (three); and Manchester – Katowice (three), Milan Malpensa (five) and Prague (nine).

■ Ryanair, which claims to be the greenest and cleanest major airline in Europe, with the lowest CO2 emissions, has also been celebrating this month after carrying a record-breaking 150m customers across Europe in 12 months – more than 25 times the population of the island of Ireland.

Edinburgh Market Street Hotel bows in

The first Design Hotels member in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh Market Street, has opened its doors next to the city’s Art Centre and a short walk from Royal Mile, Waverley Station, Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street Gardens.

The building features a Scottish stone exterior with a contemporary interior designed by FG Stijl inspired by the location's character and history on the border between Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns.

The 98 rooms and suites range from 15-47sq m and each features a king-size bed or twin beds. All play host to a marble bathroom with a shower, while the 31sq m Roomy Bath guestroom and the Alba Suite also boast freestanding bathtubs.

The Alba Suite and the Vista room, at up to 28sq m, afford panoramic views over the city (binoculars provided), while the hotel’s pinnacle is a rooftop champagne lounge to form part of Edinburgh’s World Heritage skyline.

The FG Stijl design company, which has offices in Amsterdam and Dubai, also designed in 2007 The Dominican in Brussels, a boutique hotel which, like Edinburgh Market Street, also forms part of the Design Hotels Group’s Carlton Hotel collection.

ERA renews attack on EU261

The European directive EU261 setting out rules for compensation to passengers affected by cancellations and delays for more than 3hr is uncompetitive and unfair, the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) said last week.

A study of the directive by the association concluded EU261 had been extremely controversial, represented a considerable burden for carriers and had a negative impact on aviation safety.

The ERA paper has been published to complement the current review being conducted by the Steer Group on behalf on the EU, as the association says this does not recognise regional carriers and will not provide a proper, full evaluation.

The study lists risks surrounding EU261 including losing connectivity and interlining; regional and small airlines disappearing; services to remote regions in jeopardy; damage to some national economies, and concerns about safety.

ERA director-general Montserrat Barriga said: “EU261 is putting an unbearable financial burden on small to medium-sized airlines that operate on very low margins, have lower average ticket prices, tighter schedules and smaller teams to deal with claims and legal and administrative procedures and costs.”

Financial rumbles at SAA

South Africa's public enterprises minister has told the country's parliament South African Airways and SA Express are not going concerns. His remarks came in a letter explaining delays in the carriers' submitting their annual reports.

The minister, Pravin Gordhan, is responsible for tabling the 2018-19 annual statements and audit reports for both carriers six months after the end of their financial years.

Flight Global reported both SAA's and SA Express's financial years ended on 31 March but Gordhan in his letter said the boards “have not been able to finalise and submit" the annual reports within the prescribed deadlines. "Both airlines are experiencing serious financial challenges and are unable to meet going concerns," he is said to have added.

Flight Global said SAA told the minister its newly-appointed interim chief executive and chief financial officers needed more time to hand the information to the auditor general.

It also requested and was granted an extension until the end of next March to the window in which it needs to hold its annual general meeting.

SA Express has similarly been unable to finalise its annual statements "due to financial constraints", the letter says. "[The] government remains committed to find a sustainable solution to the challenges facing the airlines."

Luton Council in airport expansion consultation

The proposed long-term expansion of Luton Airport is being opened up for discussion in a second public consultation this autumn, organised by Luton Council’s airport company, London Luton Airport Ltd (LLAL). There is no involvement by the airport operator, whose contract runs to 2031.

The consultation will run from 16 October-16 December and includes 34 events across the town and local area between 25 October-7 December where attendees can see the plans, speak to project team members and give their views.

Following feedback from its first consultation in summer 2018, LLAL is proposing sustainable, phased growth of the airport to 32m passengers a year by 2039 with a second terminal (below) north of the runway and extensive new airfield infrastructure.

Also proposed are a third station and extension for the Luton DART fast transit from Luton Airport Parkway station to the new terminal, plus on- and off-site highway improvements.

LLAL is further proposing a new incremental funding package that would provide up to an additional £14m a year at 32 mppa (million passengers per annum) for local communities most impacted by airport operations. No changes are proposed to the existing single runway.

LLAL is intending to submit its application to the planning inspectorate next summer and says based on that timing a decision by the transport secretary could be made towards the end of 2021.

NATS survey surprise

Price is the most important factor when choosing an airline – but on-board comfort and facilities are becoming ever more influential, according to a study of passenger attitudes by air traffic service provider NATS.

The NATS Aviation Index, now in its second year, shows passengers are placing growing importance on the quality of on-board facilities, with a quarter of people now citing it as one of the most important from a list of factors, up from 15% in 2018.

Similarly, more than seven in 10 people (71%) claim they would never fly with an airline they felt had a bad reputation, pointing to service, reliability and performance as the biggest concerns.

In another finding, the survey shows while only 38% of passengers said they would be willing to pay more to fly with a particular airline, it is a proportion that has grown 11 percentage points since 2018.

NATS operations director Juliet Kennedy, said: “It may be unsurprising people remain price sensitive, but it is striking to see the growth in other factors and in the number of people who would pay more for a perceived better flying experience.”

New CEO named for Air New Zealand

The New Zealand-born head of the American multinational retail corporation Walmart, Greg Foran, has been appointed the new CEO of Air New Zealand. He succeeds Christopher Luxon, who announced his resignation this summer (BTN 24 June).

Air New Zealand chairman Dame Therese Walsh said Foran, who grew up in Hastings and Hamilton, would be an “outstanding leader”. She added: “We are thrilled to have attracted a world-class Kiwi back home.”

Foran, who will join the airline in the first quarter of next year, said: “I am a proud Kiwi, and to have the job of nurturing and building on the legacy of a company that represents the best of our nation at home and around the world really excites me.

“Air New Zealand is deservedly recognised as one of the world’s great airlines and I look forward to working alongside its people, with their absolute love and passion for the business, to take it to the next level.”

Foran said the level of customer focus and care shown by the airline’s staff was one of the carrier’s major competitive advantages and he looked forward to building on it.

He added: “I want Air New Zealand to continue to be at the forefront of its industry across the world and to deliver strong commercial results in the process.”

Orient Express hotels plan

A portfolio of hotels under the Orient Express brand is being launched next year by Accor with the promise that staying in the properties will be like “a luxurious train ride back in time”.

The first of what is expected to be a 10-strong group inspired by the iconic railway will open in Bangkok next summer. The Orient Express never travelled to the city, but Accor says the hotel will be designed to evoke the train’s “historic aura”.

With interiors combining Thai and French artistic styles, the hotel will have 154 rooms including nine suites and two penthouses, a rooftop pool with views over Bangkok, two restaurants, a spa and two bars.

It will be located in the 78-storey King Power MahaNakhon skyscraper, renowned for its pixelated, Lego-like facade. The second-tallest building in the city is also home to the Ritz-Carlton Residence.

Orient Express Hotels executive director Guillaume de Saint Lager said: “More than 130 years ago, the Orient Express redefined luxury train travel, leaving an indelible mark on popular culture.

“Although the rail line has taken its farewell journey, our new line of hotels will ensure guests can still enjoy the opulence of legendary carriages, without the risk of motion sickness.”

PrivateFly new city pairings

A new and extended list of discounted, fixed-price private charter routes for the autumn and winter season has been issued by UK private charter platform PrivateFly, part of the Directional Aviation group.

New pairings from London include Amsterdam, Zurich, Luxembourg, Frankfurt and Barcelona – adding to existing destinations such as Paris, Geneva and Nice. Prices start from €4,500 (£4,050) one-way between London and Paris.

This applies to the six-seat Nextant 400XTi, giving a per-person price of £675 for a six-strong group. Longer-range pairings on the Embraer Legacy 600 include Marrakech and Moscow, and there are routes to and from Paris, Geneva and Nice.

PrivateFly CEO Adam Twidell said: "As part of Directional Aviation’s OneSky family, access to the family fleet enables us to offer these kinds of exclusives, alongside the wider market.

“An initial range of City Pairs proved very popular with clients over the summer not only for the great price but for the certainty, with us providing a guaranteed price upfront and removing some of the supply chain steps usually required.

“By committing to volumes on routes that are operationally efficient, we can offer our City Pairs as a fixed, one-way price upfront, with no ferry fees.”

Project Sunrise tests begin

Qantas is set to take the next step towards non-stop London – Sydney and New York – Sydney service next Friday, 18 October, with the first of three ultra-long-haul test flights to gather data on inflight passenger and crew health and wellbeing.

The flights form part of planning for Project Sunrise, Qantas’ programme to operate regular, non-stop commercial flights from the east coast of Australia, also including Brisbane and Melbourne, to the UK and US.

The three trials, which are being held over three months, will use new Boeing B787-9 Dreamliner delivery flights which instead of flying empty from Seattle to Australia will re-route to simulate the Project Sunrise paths.

Between them, the tests will represent the world’s first flight by a commercial airline direct from New York to Sydney and only the second time a commercial airline has flown direct from London to Sydney.

Each flight will have a maximum of 40 people, including crew, in order to minimise weight and give the necessary fuel range. Carbon emissions from the flights will be fully offset.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said a final decision on Project Sunrise is expected by the end of December. He added: “There’s plenty of enthusiasm, but it’s not a foregone conclusion. It’s ultimately a business decision and the economics have to stack up.”

(See also Qantas keeping up the momentum in this issue).

Qantas keeping up the momentum

As well as preparing for Project Sunrise (see story this issue), Qantas is keeping busy on several other fronts, including consolidating its relationship with American Airlines and upgrading its Airbus A380 fleet.

The Australian flag carrier and American are rolling out significantly improved frequent flyer benefits, including higher earn rates for points and status credits on each other’s networks.

Qantas customers will also benefit from new codeshares across North America with access to more than 50 new routes and almost 30 new destinations, and American customers will have access to 32 total codeshare routes in Australia.

The changes are being implemented following final approval by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) of a joint business deal between the two airlines.

On the A380 front, all 12 of the Qantas fleet will be refurbished as part of a multimillion-dollar upgrade. Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said: “Australians are used to flying long-haul and it’s important to make the journey comfortable.”

Changes include a transformed upper deck lounge and bringing in the Caon-designed Premium Economy seat, which made its debut on the Qantas Dreamliner fleet. The number of Premium Economy seats has also been increased from 35 to 60.

The Qantas Business Suite (below), dubbed “mini First” by the airline’s frequent flyers, has replaced the Skybed and provides direct aisle access for every passenger.

Stansted shopping bypass

A new fast-track service and widening horizons to India made the headlines for Stansted last week with the airport boosting passenger service on the ground and Air India’s Boeing B787 Dreamliner on the way later this month.

The Fast Track Plus service gives passengers using Stansted access to a dedicated lane straight to the security checkpoint and then the fastest route to departures and the airport’s Escape Lounge – bypassing the shops.

The service can only be booked online and costs £10 but is offered free to Blue Badge holders, wheelchair users and “sunflower” passengers with hidden disabilities.

Meanwhile, Stansted is expanding its global network with a new three-times-a-week Air India service to Amritsar, the airport’s first direct flight to India. Flights will be by Boeing B787 with Business and Economy classes.

Stansted CEO Ken O’Toole said: “Stansted is ideally situated to serve the Asian community in north and east London and across eastern England, so we are delighted Air India has recognised the customer demand for Amritsar.

“We have just published our Gateway to Growth report highlighting our ambition to use our spare runway capacity to build our long-haul route network. The welcome arrival of Air India is another positive step towards that goal.”

Travelodge UK powers on

Six more hotels are being opened in the UK before Christmas by Travelodge in a £45m investment that includes Scotland’s first new-build Travelodge Plus property in Edinburgh.

Continuing the company’s general UK expansion (BTN 12 August), the programme is creating 135 new jobs and brings the company’s UK, Ireland and Spain portfolio to 595 hotels.

The Travelodge Plus concept, which the company calls “budget-chic”, features newly-designed budget rooms, upgraded SuperRooms and a new-style restaurant. The Edinburgh property will be the company’s 46th in Scotland.

It will be located in the Edinburgh Business Park, close to Edinburgh Park rail station and Edinburgh Airport and also home to the headquarters of Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Bank and NHS Scotland.

The other new openings include a third Travelodge in Chippenham as well as two more in London, in Dagenham and Beckton. Rochester and Sittingbourne are also getting their first properties under the brand.

Spokesperson Shakila Ahmed said: “Despite the uncertainty facing the UK, the long-term prospects for low-cost hotels remain strong. We are focused on ensuring that we can give consumers the right choice, in the right place, at the right price.

“Today’s Travelodge not only offers the same great value as always, but the extra premium choice of our new Travelodge Plus and SuperRoom concepts.”

Vondelpark Park Plaza open

International hospitality real estate company PPHE Hotel Group has opened its latest premium boutique property, Park Plaza Vondelpark, Amsterdam, following a £9m repositioning.

Next to the Vondelpark in Amsterdam’s Oud-Zuid area in the museum quarter, it follows the opening of Holmes Hotel London earlier this year (BTN 11 May) and is part of the group's £100m multi-year investment programme.

The 102-room new hotel features what the company calls “a newly invigorated colourful design approach” (below), with inspiration taken from local area and its diverse natural environment.

Park Plaza Vondelpark, Amsterdam is owned and operated by PPHE. President and CEO Boris Ivesha said:  "Park Plaza Vondelpark, Amsterdam is the latest hotel repositioning project completed by the group in 2019 and concludes our £100m-plus multi-year investment programme in our key markets.

“This hotel, located in a highly-desirable area of Amsterdam, perfectly complements our strong offering in the city, which consists of the Park Plaza Victoria Amsterdam, which was repositioned in 2018, and the flagship art'otel amsterdam.

“We are excited about our future development pipeline and now expect to move on to spend some £300m on projects such as art'otel london hoxton and art'otel new york".

ON TOUR: Castle Combe, motor sport and Bath – A conundrum

In terms of journalism, how do you link Castle Combe, one of the prettiest villages in England, a motor-racing circuit, and nearby Bath, ancient and once the pride of the Georgians? asks editor-in-chief Malcolm Ginsberg.

Read on as I try to cover all three in this motoring edition of Business Travel News. You might also refer to BTN 12 August 2019, a gathering of the Clan, the reason for being in this rural part of England. Our motor was the all-new Kia ProCeed, an ideal chariot for the run and the subject of this week’s Road Test.

After an easy 100-mile run down the M4 from London, first stop was a quiet lunch at the 19th-century Manor House Hotel Castle Combe seven miles from Junction 17. Set in 365 acres of glorious parkland, with its Peter Allis-designed championship golf course, it is in a different world from that of motor sport and all the noise that it generates.

Walking past a terrace of ancient staff cottages one can slip into the centre of the tiny town with its 14th-century buttercross topping the old market building where the three principal streets of the lower village converge. Nearby is one of Castle Combe's two village pumps. Here was once the heart of the Cotswolds’ wool trade. Small stone steps near the cross were for horse riders to mount and dismount.

Back to the car and a careful drive through the steep narrow road that climbs out of the village into another world.

In WWII, Castle Combe airfield was created in open farmland as a Polish fighter base before being decommissioned in 1948. As a motor racing circuit, it opened in 1950 with the first meeting staged on 8 July by the Bristol Motorcycle & Light Car Club. Over the next few years, the track attracted such star names as Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorn, Roy Salvadori and John Surtees.

What followed was a boom period for ‘club’ motorsport in the UK, new circuits, often former RAF bases, springing up all over the place, many still active (see below), with Silverstone the most famous.

Castle Combe has staged many different motorsport disciplines over the years. In 1997, Nigel Greensall established a new lap record. His Tyrrell 022 lapped the circuit at 130.93 mph (210.71km/h). However, this was the last year that the circuit would remain unaltered.

A tragic accident involving the death of a spectator forced the owners into installing two new chicanes in order to slow the cars down. The revised layout was slightly longer at 1.85mi (2.98km), and was completed over the winter of 1998-1999. More safety barriers have been erected recently to keep up with current regulations.

Formula Three returned to Castle Combe in 2001. However, it would not stay long. In 2005, the circuit was issued with a noise nuisance order, which meant it had to reduce sound output. The British Formula Three Championship and the British GT Championship were both louder than permitted, and so were prevented from returning.

Today, races include a home-circuit championship with classes for Saloon cars, Sports & GTs, and Formula Ford. Motorsport clubs from around the UK include the track in the events for their championships, including the 750 Motor Club, and BRSCC. Once a year, motorcycle racing takes place over two days during the summer. The weekend includes a sidecar championship and an historic race, as well as the more modern supersport races.

As well as holding trackdays for both cars and motorcycles, Castle Combe Circuit hosts car shows. These follow a general motorsport theme and exhibit motoring stands, market stalls, stunt demonstrations, classic displays.  On certain days the circuit is able to hold track sessions.

The shows have proven to be a big success, offering the motoring community a place to display their vehicles and use them on a racetrack in a safe and controlled environment, with each year building on the last and gaining larger and larger crowds.

During the year, events include a Spring Action Day, Classic, retro and kit car action days, Forge Motorsport action day and Japfest. Since 2001, Rallyday, an annual demonstration event for rally cars, has also been held. Young drivers, from the age of 12 upwards, can make their first tentative motoring experience, under instruction. The only restriction is to be more than 4ft 8in and parents with £55 to introduce their offspring into the world of motoring. 

Television motoring shows Top Gear and Fifth Gear have used this circuit to race or test cars. One such race was between British motorcycle racer Leon Haslam on a Ducati 1098 vs Fifth Gear presenter Tiff Needell driving a Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera, the bike coming out on top. Top Gear used the circuit for its '70s Supercar challenge. In this episode, The Stig lapped a Vauxhall Astra. Jeremy Clarkson, local, said: "It's a fierce track this, one of the fastest in Britain, a real car breaker."

One aspect of the circuit which has remained unchanged throughout the years is the large population of rabbits who live in the extensive tyre barriers around the circuit.

The circuit hosts an annual Greenpower event (pedal cars), one round in a series held at various racetrack-type venues. Also popular are car boot sales. In May it also hosts an annual steam rally. Another revenue stream for the venue is conference hospitality, which can include trackside experience. 

Castle Combe is a friendly track, away from the mainstream of motoring but not that far from the M4; in the middle of the beautiful Cotswolds, it is an improbable circuit.

On to Bath

Bath is the largest city in Somerset, known for its Roman-built baths and Georgian terraces.

It is very accessible from London via the M4, and also Great Western Railway (GWR) with its upgraded trains reducing journey times down to as little as 1hr 18min for the 94mi run.  Brunel, Britain’s finest engineer must have known Bath well, “God’s Wonderful Railway” turning a prosperous city into an even more prosperous city. 

For our overnight stay this time round we chose the Apex Hotel, recently purpose-built in the very centre of the city with a car park nearby and just a short walk from the railway station.  Apex is a small expanding Scottish-owned hotel group now with 10 properties including three in London.  The Bath hotel is 4-star with the main conference room holding up to 400 delegates, making it the largest in the city.  It has a selection of 177 good size contemporary bedrooms, including family rooms and those with balconies.  It also offers fully equipped leisure facilities including a pool and sauna for guests wishing to relax, and a well provided gym.  The wi-fi was excellent.  Our only grumble with the visit was the famous Theatre Royal.  Fully booked for our stay! 

In the 17th century, claims were made for the curative properties of water from the springs, and Bath became popular as a spa town.

Georgian architecture, crafted from Bath stone, includes the Royal Crescent, Circus, Pump Room and Assembly Rooms where Beau Nash presided over the city's social life from 1705 until his death in 1761. Many of the streets and squares were laid out by John Wood, the Elder, and in the 18th century the city became fashionable and the population grew.

Jane Austen lived in Bath in the early 19th century and her life is celebrated with an exhibtion and tea room.

Led by The Mayor of Bath's Corps of Honorary Guides, the city offer a totally free guided walking tour regardless of the weather by volunteers who love their city.  In June 2014 it received The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service.  This is the highest award for a civic group in the UK and is given for outstanding work in the local community. No tips please with the assembly point the Pump Room.  Starting at 10.30 and 14.00 it lasts about two hours. Our short visit included a 45 minute hop-on hop-off bus tour with an excellent loudspeaker commentary in English. There are two routes both of which you can try in a 24 hour period.

Worthwhile for a lunch or supper is Sally Lunn's, one of the oldest houses in Bath (c.1482) serving famous local delicacies. According to legend, Sally Lunn, a French refugee, arrived in 1680 and established her bakery.  In the basement is the original kitchen.  Very basic.

Bath was pronounced a World Heritage Site back in 1987.


The Shelsley Walsh Speed Hill Climb (Worcester) is the oldest motorsport event to have been staged continuously (wartime excepted) on its original course, first having been run in 1905. On that first occasion, the course was 992yds (907m) in length, but in 1907 it was standardised at 1000 yards (914m), the length it remains today.  Just 12ft wide and with an average gradient of 10.9% with the record held by Martin Groves in at 22.58sec in his Cosworth Gould GR55B.

We list here the current UK motor racing tracks although some of them (Aintree for instance) are much reduced from former glories.

Permanent motor sport circuits  

Aintree Motor Racing Circuit, Lancaster
Anglesey Circuit, Aberffraw, Anglesey
Bedford Autodrome, Bedfordshire
Blyton, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire
Brands Hatch, Fawkham, Kent
Cadwell Park, Lincolnshire
Castle Combe Circuit, Wiltshire
Circuit of Wales, Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent
Croft Circuit, North Yorkshire
Darley Moor, Derbyshire
Donington Park, Leicestershire
East Fortune, East Lothian
Goodwood Motor Racing Circuit, West Sussex
Kirkistown Circuit, County Down
Knockhill, Fife
Llandow Circuit, Vale of Glamorgan
Lydden, Canterbury, Kent
Mallory Park, Leicestershire
Nutts Corner, Belfast
Oliver's Mount, North Yorkshire
Oulton Park, Cheshire
Pembrey Circuit, Carmarthenshire
Santa Pod Raceway, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire
Silverstone Circuit, Northamptonshire
Snetterton Circuit, Norfolk
Thruxton, Hampshire
Tonfanau, Gwynedd


Kia continues to proliferate with new models. At the present count there are 12 distinct car types, many of which have spin-offs. Take for instance the Ceed family. Kia produces the Ceed, XCeed, Ceed Sportswagen, and the new (2019) ProCeed, the subject of this road test. We are told an SUV is on its way.

Clearly Kia thinks this is the way to go, its UK market share improving all the time. In any event, forget you are buying a Korean car. It is a true European motor, designed in Germany and built in Slovakia.

“Engineered on European roads, for European drivers” is Kia’s sales pitch. And it comes with Kia’s unique seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

The Kia ProCeed is the third body style to be added to the Ceed range, following the more conservative-looking five-door hatchback and estate. BTN road tested the Ceed GT back in May 2018.  

This time, the car is suitable for the school run. It is less powerful with a still-sufficient 0-60mph in 10sec, the manual six-speed gearbox seems to be just that little bit more smoother and very much suited to the car. In truth, with looks and handling it seems a different vehicle whatever its underpinnings are. Petrol consumption is much better too, with 50mpg possible. However, Kia’s own figures are always optimistic and you would need to be a careful driver to get anywhere near the 60 mark the brochure says.

Just to emphasise that the model is completely different in terms of looks (except for the Kia family grill), this Kia's bodywork shares nothing but its front wings and bonnet with other Ceed variants. To create the shooting brake silhouette, the ProCeed’s designers made the windscreen angle 1.5deg more steeply raked than that of its sister models and the roofline 43mm lower, while the rear window is angled at almost 65deg off the vertical, making it seem to be much more of a fastback. Overall, it is just 5mm longer and its wheelbase and width are the same as other Ceed derivatives.

Kia calls the car “a stationwagon” an American term that seemed to drop out of fashion but is clearly making a comeback. How you differentiate between it and an “estate car”, we are not sure. At any event, it is 1,422mm high against the saloon’s 1,447mm (or in simple language just 1in).

Get close to the car and the door unlocks with the folding mirrors unfurling. Watch your head getting into the cabin which is typically Kia with similar ergonomics and high-quality soft-touch surfaces, metallic trim and a horizontal dashboard layout. The 8in 'floating' touchscreen infotainment system sits at the centre of the dashboard, with audio and heating and ventilation controls situated below. The dashboard itself is angled slightly towards the driver.

The driving position is the same as other Ceeds but rear visibility is poor with the low roof rear-view mirror counterbalanced by large door reflectors. When it comes to the ‘kit’, the ProCeed is exceptionally well imbued, particularly from a safety point of view, including Driver Attention Warning (DAW), Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) and Forward Collision Warning with Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA), Blind-Spot Collision Warning (BCW) and Speed Limit Information Function (SLIF).

You get parking assist, a wireless phone charger, reversing camera as well as front and rear parking sensors. TomTom supplies the navigation system, or you can use your own phone connection and the eight-speaker premium sound system is excellent.

Back-seat legroom is the same as the other Ceed models (generous), but, again, getting in and out requires one to watch one’s head. It is OK with children but adults need to be reminded it is a semi-fastback.

With a capacity of 594 litres, the ProCeed's boot is 50% more capacious than the hatchback and the tailgate opens automatically when it detects the smart key in close proximity for occasions when users' hands are full with a heavy ‘shop’.  With no boot lip and a lower ride height than the Ceed Sportswagon, it is remarkably easy to load and unload.

An underfloor storage area can stow smaller items and the boot features a bag hook to prevent groceries and other items rolling around the load bay. If you are really short of space, the rear seats fold down separately, as does the front passenger’s for really long items.

Kia’s research suggests station wagon sales will grow over the next few years. It predicts a 20% share of overall Ceed sales for the shooting brake, with the five-door and more conventional estate bodies accounting for 25% each, leaving the as-yet-unseen Ceed SUV to make up the remaining 30%.

Sit inside and you’ll notice the ProCeed’s leather and Alcantara sports seats with red stitching and GT logos. They give excellent side support and feel instantly comfortable. There’s a flat-bottomed steering wheel and black roof lining, both of which make for a sportier ambience.

When it comes to driving, the ProCeed is very assured even on the twisty country roads that featured when we took the car to the Cotswolds (see ON TOUR in this issue). The handling is balanced and precise and traction never a problem with a front-wheel-drive car. 

Assuming the SUV arrives the Kia range now covers just about every requirement for saloon cars and the ProCeed, it could be argued, further muddies the waters when it comes to choice. At £24,690, it is very good value. Regarding rivals, the only other named competitor is the Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake which, fully equipped, will cost considerably more.

STAR RATINGS (out of 10)

Performance 7
Handling 8
Transmission 7
Noise 7
Economy 7
Ride and Comfort 8
Accommodation 7
Styling 9
Brakes 8
Finish 8
TOTAL  78%

AND FINALLY: What is public relations?

Having spent many happy hours discussing the subject of public relations, we at BTN feel blessed at last to have received guidance.

After months of exhaustive debate, so we are told, IPRA, the International Public Relations Association, has created a new definition, which it says is fit for the times we live in.

The 31-word definition reads: “Public relations is a decision-making management practice tasked with building relationships and interests between organisations and their publics based on the delivery of information through trusted and ethical communication methods.”

Readers are invited to submit their own thoughts. Rude words will be expunged.