Hotel brands, and a toast?

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FOXTROTS 

Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning.  Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance. 
  

2006 January 30

Hotel brands, and a toast? 

Brands 1

Talking of hotel brands, I will never admit that I am not always the brightest light on Broadway, so this is a story about a friend. A friend who thought that the Evason brand of Six Senses was a spelling mistake for ‘Evasion’!  

Like some other brands – such as Centra, Crowne Plaza, Formule 1, and Welcom.  

After all, that is what Evason’s resorts were all about – evasion from the harsh world. (However, perhaps that would be a better name for a tax-specialist accountancy company, or perhaps for a challenger to the Big Four accountancy companies…)  

But my friend has now learned that the Evason resort brand is (almost) the combined first names of Six Senses’ founder Sonu Shivdasani and his wife Eva. My friend hopes that the company’s investment includes matrimonial consulting sessions.  

Now what could one of the group’s other brands mean – Soneva?  

Brands 2

Still on brands, I asked Spain’s Abba Hotels, seriously, where did their name come from? They answered, seriously, “We wanted a name that would put us first in the phone book.”  

They obviously have not heard of Aadvark Hotels, named after famous former singing group ‘The Aadvarks’.  

Fix me a drink

Did you note that new heads of two big hotel groups – Hilton International and Starwood – are from outside the industry? From Black & Decker, which makes handyman tools, and Coca Cola. 

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Business-class-only airlines. Max, and Lux?

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FOXTROTS 

Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning.  Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance. 

 2005 September 10 

Business-class-only airlines. Max, and Lux?

Two new airlines are due to start transAtlantic flights before the end of this year, both between New York Kennedy and London Stansted.  

US-based Maxjet plans low-fare operations – which it has now defined as around US$1600 roundtrip. It plans to use B767s; normally they have around 225 seats, but Maxjet’s will have 102.  

UK-based Eos plans to install 48 seats in a B757 instead of the normal about-200. Its fares will be around US$6500 roundtrip.  

Maxjet could be a success – but that depends partly on frequency (if once-daily, then fares need to be lower). And partly on what the industry calls ‘schedule integrity’ – will its flights operate more or less on time more or less all the time?  

But for Eos the risk is much greater – even if the product is good. Frequency needs to be at least daily – and preferably double-daily. Eos wants to start daily, this month, then increase to twice daily from January.  

Plus frequent-flyer points. Although road warriors have more than they can ever use, and find them difficult to use, don’t ever suggest taking them away. It’s like Dinky toys; keep them, marvel at how much they are worth, but never let them be taken away from you.  

But Eos will not be able to offer attractive FFP (because it has no other routes) – so that makes its fare level even more important. That means the price should not be much more than a (discounted) economy class ticket. Forget protests that it is offering a first-class product at business-class fares. Few people fly FC, and most of those that do are not worried about the price, but about the product.  

And the 'product' also includes frequency, FFPs, schedule integrity, and, possibly London Heathrow, not the secondary airport, Stansted – to catch connecting traffic. And not just comfortable seats and French not Australian champagne (sorry, but I do know that only the Champagne district of France is legally entitled to use that name).  

At US$6500, this will not work; even half that would probably be too much.  

Another problem for Eos is its name. Maxjet has got it right, but Eos? Lesson one in marketing should have told the backers to choose a name that will be remembered, and can be pronounced (some will say Ay-os, some Ee-os, and others Ay-o), and tells potential customers what it offers. How about Luxjet?  

Eos will need a special trick if it is to survive past Christmas.  

Meanwhile, watch out for another similar operation, from the US, but probably into London Heathrow – key for connecting traffic. And with feeder traffic support from the US also. The name is Primaris. More when I know more. 

Lufthansa. Flying backwards

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FOXTROTS 

Fox – sly.   Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning.   Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance. 
 

2006 January 20

Lufthansa. Flying backwards

Poor vision 

Inflight entertainment on Lufthansa A340-600s takes passengers on a flashback to the 1960s. But not in the music or black-and-white films – but in the airline’s video system.  

The airline has done away with seatback screens in favour of all-cabin screens. This enables all passengers to watch the same movie at the same time. And on a long flight (as usual for A340s), a second movie at a time determined by the cabin crew – which may, of course, also match the wishes of some passengers.  

Lufthansa’s system does away with the time-consuming possibility of choosing from a selection of around 10 movies – as on most other airlines concentrating on passenger demands suited to the 21st century. And some – such as Singapore Airlines – even allow passengers to determine for themselves the times they want to start the shows and movies.  

The other advantage on Lufthansa is that children do not need to spend their time on board playing video games, watching cartoons, or other programs. So they can fill their time playing around the seat. Unfortunately, Lufthansa’s new seats no longer have ashtrays, so children cannot play opening and closing them. But a glass-holder has been added, and this keeps children occupied for as long as five minutes, but many times in the flight, or until they break it – whichever comes first.  

My point is that Lufthansa has presumably decided that in the new world of airline business, costs must be cut, particularly in economy class. But passengers accept no-frills if fares are low, but on Lufthansa they are not low.  

The airline has made a strategic mistake. It will either have to refit* seatback screens in the next refurbishing or go the way of low-fare-airlines and reduce fares substantially (and take out other service elements if it wants, like seat pockets, cushions, blankets – but keep the seats). 

* A useless space in the back of seats seems to have been created for this purpose. If so, we expect Lufthansa to start equipping its seats with screens before this summer.

Service not included 

Notes from another longhaul Lufthansa flight, and written up because to me these indicate some institutional problems at the airline. 

– In the first 10” I asked a stewardess for a specific magazine. She suggested I go to other section of the cabin and ask there. 

– In the first 10” I asked a steward for the inflight magazine as there was not one in my seat-pocket. He replied that my neighbour (not a travelling companion) had one, implying I could use that. I responded saying that was hers. Well, he replied, ask to borrow it then. (!) When I then complained to him about his attitude, he said he would get one for me, and did. 

– Later, after meal service, a stewardess came around offering coffee top-up. I accepted, and asked for sugar and milk. She pointed to the steward elsewhere in the cabin with the trolley, and said I could ask him. When she passed again, I complained, saying my coffee would be cold by the time the steward arrived. She answered with an explanation (saying she was speaking to a passenger), but this was irrelevant and disingenuous; it seems she just wanted to answer back. She brought the milk and sugar. 

– Steward served breakfast trays any way (right angles, wrong way round, etc, leaving passengers to straighten them). This was not ‘service’; it was ‘delivery’. 

– On this (admittedly long) flight, a short video about pandas was shown three times on the main cabin screens; I had already missed it on my outbound flight, and I don’t know if it was also shown three times on that flight. I know pandas are an endangered species, but this seems to be overkill. 

Backpack to the future, again

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FOXTROTS

Fox – sly

Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

 2006 January 10

Backpack to the future, again

I have been desperately searching for proof that I said it would be a winner. So far all I can find is some anaemic reference to it being a “good move”. 

‘It’ is Accor’s awkwardly-named X Base Backpackers (awkward because they did not buy any of my suggestions – Walk Inn, Budgis, or a mere Bagotel) is going better than Accor expected. XBBs are smart youth hostels…but cooler…don’t use ‘hostel’ in earshot of XBB people… 

Less than one year ago Accor was planning to add three in Australia to the three in New Zealand that were going through their initial refurbishment. 

Today the list (according to Travel Business Analyst, which is my night-time job) shows an extraordinary 25 locations – including four in Asia (Singapore and Thailand). That is faster growth than Accor’s other budget brand – Formule 1 – which has 15 in Australia, built up over a much-longer period. 

Such is my enthusiasm (and I haven’t cashed Accor’s cheque yet) that I think this is going to be even bigger. Even Paris head office will realise that there is a market for these type of properties, not just more in Asia Pacific but in Europe and North America as well. 

Accor is looking at two sites to open backpacker hostels in Paris. After Paris, it would probably search in London and then maybe Amsterdam, then Frankfurt. These would likely take the name used by a division of the Australian subsidiary. 

I think Accor’s priorities are wrong. It should open London first, because that is Europe’s backpacker capital, not its own headquarters, Paris. Even if the share of domestic business at XBB in Australia is only 15%, a lot of those guests when they venture overseas might stop not in the ‘backpacker migratory flow’ points of India and Thailand in Asia, and Los Angeles and some other US points, but in the European nesting point, London. 

I am of course privy to one of the reasons for the apparent success of XBB. It is Sanctuary.  

Graeme Warring, head of XBB, wanted some marketing trick to encourage custom. He decided that if XBB could become the favoured stopover place for young females then that would attract young males. (And, to avoid being accused of ageism etc, old males…oh, and old females, etc…) 

So he devised Sanctuary – which is a protected part of the main XBB hostel along with some additional amenities and services for females, such as full-length mirrors. I don’t know whether the concept has worked, but given that big expansion plan, I guess so.

I am sure I said this was going to be big…

 

Low-fare airlines. Operational shortcomings

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FOXTROTS

Fox – sly

Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

  

2005 December 30

Low-fare airlines. Operational shortcomings

Flight reports on two low-fare airlines (LFAs).

  Air Asia KL-Macau. Boarding was near-chaos. There was no preferential seat boarding; favoured among LFAs is sequential – the first 30 to check-in, which also rewards those who turn up for the flight in good time. So half the whole passenger load was milling around the desk at the departure gate – but there was no security or Air Asia staff until five minutes before scheduled departure time. They eventually announced a technical problem, and the flight left 45 minutes late.

  On board, the seat area showed signs of corporate neglect (torn and tatty menus and shopping brochures, or missing; crumbs and forks, napkins etc in seat pocket; drink-stained seatbacks). The airline needs to rethink its operation to rectify these operational shortcomings.

  The Macau flight seems too long for the crew; they finished their service in the first 45 minutes, and were then just hanging around with nothing to do for the rest of the flight, and sat in seats on the back row watching a movie on their portable DVD player.

  Perhaps the airline should run a second trolley service later in the flight – travellers who missed first time might also be hungrier.

  Jetstar Asia HK-Singapore. The airline has pristine aircraft – but that is because they are new. The leather seats will impress most passengers – although they are preferred by LFAs because they are easier to clean than cloth, and so after the initial capital cost, ongoing maintenance costs are lower.

  Boarding took an amazing 10 minutes from the time the bus arrived at the aircraft steps to actually getting inside the plane. Yet there were only 80 passengers boarding!

  There are two reasons. One is that staff are not trained, or do not bother, to speed up boarding. And the other is because Jetstar gives seat selection. LFAs usually prefer not to do this because when there is no seat selection, passengers rush and push to get their preferred seats. (True, though, that often leads to unseemly scenes – for one of my Air Asia flights, a stream of passengers ran across the tarmac to the plane.)

  I boarded carrying a newspaper, and stuffed it in the seat pocket when I had finished. It was still there when I left the plane. With Southwest and Easyjet, and other successful LFAs, the passengers does much of the clearing for the airline – and cabin crews pass through the cabin about every hour and just before landing to collect rubbish in big plastic sacks.

  Likewise, my coffee cup was in the seat pocket – more serious because this sort of item will start to dirty the aircraft.

  The reason for the lack of interest by crew eventually became clear. Although I arrived midday, there was a team of six cleaning staff waiting as we left the aircraft. LFAs would usually have a more-thorough clean at the end of the day, but not midday. The cost of that either comes in a higher-cost of air fare, or, in Jetstar’s case, bigger financial losses.

Jetstar Asia. Service shortcomings

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FOXTROTS

Fox – sly

Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

  

2005 December 20

Jetstar Asia. Service shortcomings

In another column I talked about Jetstar Asia’s operational shortcomings. This is about service shortcomings – on the same flight, Hong Kong-Singapore. I had a problem on this flight with food service, as follows:

  The in-seat pocket menu affirms that the buffet is open throughout the flight; you can order at any time. I had missed breakfast, and wanted to eat and then sleep.

  I first asked to order after they closed the aircraft doors, although was not surprised when they said “after take-off”. But after take-off I asked three times over a period of one hour, and each time was told “later”. On the last occasion they said I had to wait for the trolley service that had started serving passengers from the front of the plane.

  I guess that proved, despite that claim on the menu card, that the buffet is not open for order at any time.

  Worse, when the trolley arrived at my row (half-way), they had run out of my first three choices. Surely the cabin crew should have realised that here was a passenger that wanted something badly, and served me first?

  I asked for a Comment form. They brought this – but never came back to collect it. Which is another service shortcoming; here was a passenger apparently complaining, but they paid no more attention to ameliorate the situation. I left the form on the aisle seat – from the time we started our descent. And although a crew member stopped to straighten my seatback (and I was the only passenger in the 18 seats around me) this was not picked up.

  (I have not had any comment from the airline, so I presume my completed comment form was trashed.)

Deluxe in Hong Kong’s Mongkok? New Langham hotel

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FOXTROTS Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning.  Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance. 

2005 December 10

Deluxe in Hong Kong’s Mongkok? New Langham hotelIn deepest darkest Mongkok near Boundary Street in Hong Kong’s Kowloon district stirs something big – very big. It’s the 42-floor 665-room Langham Place Hotel.  There may be nothing special about a hotel in Mongkok; it is not the first hotel in Mongkok, although it is the first of the new wave of hotels being built in Kowloon, and the first for almost 10 years. But this one is different from those other hotels in Mongkok.  It calls itself a 5-star hotel. A 5-star hotel in Mongkok; isn’t that an oxymoron?  It thus invites comparison not only with hotels like the Sheraton down Nathan Road in Tsimshatsui, but even, yes, the Shangri-La’s in Hong Kong, and other top hotels.  And the Langham Place holds up well. In terms of room facilities and in service, the hotel is comparable. In some fields it is ahead; for instance, probably in in-room technology, and in culture – in-hotel art (paintings and statues, contemporary and modernist Chinese from Hong Kong and China). And in its three floors of ‘wellness’ facilities including fitness centre, saunas, etc, plus spa rooms, treatment rooms, rooftop pool and deck.  Probably the other surprise is that business is not only good, it is better than expected. Opened a year ago, the Langham Place is 10-15% ahead of its projections. Some thought its location would be disadvantage, but for some target clients it is turning into an advantage – including the business traveller market, now getting close to 60% of the total.   Targets for this year were for a room occupancy rate of 75-80%, and an average just over US$100 per occupied room per night. Having achieved over US$130 in one particular month, that will be the new target level. By way of comparison, it is achieving room rates that are closer to 80% of the group’s hotel in Tsimshatsui, the Langham, than the 60% in its first six months of operations.  Langham Hotels itself, part of Hong Kong’s Great Eagle group and named after the 140-year-old Langham hotel in London, is looking to add more hotels, close to home, in Beijing and Shanghai.  

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