Hotels. Dorchester, Easyhotel, Langham, GMs, etc.

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

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.



2008 May 30

Hotels. Dorchester, Easyhotel, Langham, GMs, etc.

A ramble through the hotel business.

[] I notice it seems to be getting more difficult to get the names of hotel general managers. Why? It could be partly because they change often. But is it more because that GMs are not as important as they were? Less innkeepers than keepers of their company standards?

[] I recently stayed in a luxury hotel, and noted that such hotels find it difficult to get measures of service standards and ‘environmentally-conscious’. Use 1% of something, and it is replaced – such as a shoe cleaner, towel, soap bar. Not just once daily or less often, but the moment the room staff note something has been used/touched/moved.

[] Langham moves into pseudo-green. Hong Kong-based Langham Hotels has opened an 185-room resort on Lanta Yai island, in Krabi province, southern Thailand – what LH calls an ‘eco resort’.


It is called an ‘Eco Resort’ for ‘ecology’, but this is really little more than a description of the area and not the resort operation itself. And perhaps an indication of a credibility problem if the industry uses such terms more or less as a marketing tag.

[] UK-based Easyhotel has signed a master franchise agreement with Germany-based Igen Hotels (probably for the ‘I generation’). The target is to open 60 franchised Easyhotels in Europe (outside the UK) in three years, of which about 10 are expected in Germany.


This growth rate – almost two per month – is closer to the potential, but above what Easyhotel has managed itself in UK (three in 18 months; one every six months) and its plans for Middle East, Asia, Africa (38 in five years; one every two months).

[] Something good. Finally. I hate to admit it, but sometimes hotel companies do smart things. The small-but-perfectly-formed Dorchester Group of hotels (set up a decade ago) has re-branded and changed its corporate name – to the Dorchester Collection.


This seems refreshing following oddities from some hotel groups that have recently launched – 1, Address, Opposite House, Waldorf=Astoria. I am so impressed, I have told Taj that The Taj Collection should be the name for its confusing multitude of brands and half-brands.


Also, Dorchester’s five hotels – in London, Los Angeles, Milan, and Paris (2) – will keep their own names. The group wants to expand to 20 hotels, but this may be a long process as it seeks landmark buildings in gateway cities, with an optimum size of 250 rooms.


The Fox

Anywhere Air, British, Germanwings, PrivatAir, Qantas.

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

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.



2008 May 28

Anywhere Air, British, Germanwings, PrivatAir, Qantas.

A ramble through the airline business.

[] Anywhere Air. At one time, ‘Northwest’ Air meant the airline was based in, and/or concentrated on, the northwest (in this case, of the US).


As it has changed in the US, so it now seems to be changing in the rest of the world. It has already happened in China, surprisingly enough. Hainan Airlines, for instance, based on Hainan island in the south of the country, has started a route in the north, Beijing-Geneva. And there have been earlier similar examples.


Now, will Air ‘France’ come to mean as little as ‘Northwest’? That has begun with routes between the EU and the US started by airlines other than the home-based airlines. Such as Air France over London-Chicago.

 [] Travelling on British Airways over Hong Kong-London, I was given a middle seat in economy class – there was nothing else left. But on my connecting flight out of London I was also allocated a middle seat!


I attempted to complain – after all, I had ‘checked in’ 12 hours before the flight – but ran into that usual useless airline obstruction/obfuscation. “It was not me; it was the Hong Kong office…the system should not have done that…I don’t know what went wrong. Etc.”

[] Germanwings is now casually dropping statistical reports on its traffic progress. Does this have anything to do with the fact that its passenger count is falling? In the same way, Air Asia – which boasts its greater transparency – has started to make it more difficult to see its figures – some of which have not been looking so good.

[] Early morning arrival at Paris CDG – two immigration staff for a B747 load. There were more (about six) in the area but not working (walking, talking).

[] Qantas. On a 12-hour economy-class flight, I was served warm coffee every time. It is difficult for airlines to get it hot, but in this case there is something wrong with the airline’s systems.

 [] As more airlines think of starting medium-haul business-class-only flights, the company that started the current phase, PrivatAir (sic), seems to be losing clients and potential. I predicted this would happen – if PA would not change its policy of operating its own inflight service, rather than allowing its customers to provide their own cabin crews and, more importantly, their service norms.


Now Lufthansa, which started with PA flights to the US is now switching its Munich B737 flights to an A330, and moving the leased B737 to operate a new operation Frankfurt-New York Newark. The disadvantage with the B737 – and something that will need to be fixed – is that seats do not recline to fully-flat. Business-class passengers on quality air services now expect this.


Other potential customers for PA could have been British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, both once considering small-aircraft transAtlantic flights from outside their UK base. But now VA has abandoned its plans for the time being, and BA has a strange arrangement with plans to start a new subsidiary airline, Open Skies (yes), but operated by another airline (yes), named L’Avion (yes). It seems it is not only Eos which has a dumb name.

[] Now I understand why British Airways can charge higher fares – because the standard of English language is higher. On a recent flight, I heard one crew member correct the almost-industry-standard of asking passengers to wait until the plane has come to a “full stop”.


It’s wrong because a ‘stop’ is a ‘stop’, so ‘full’ is superfluous. But the BA crew member, who actually showed her style, said when the plane comes to its “final stop”. Will that ever migrate to those inferior airlines?


The Fox

Donald & Ivana Trump. Seen Together In Hotels.

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

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.



2008 May 27

Donald & Ivana Trump. Seen Together In Hotels.

Well, sort of. Those two business-cum-show-business personalities, Donald and Ivana Trump – no longer a married couple since 1992 – have , separately of course, announced the creation of would-be hotel groups. But they are still together in aiming for the top of the market.


Donald has formed the Trump Hotel Collection. Joining the existing Trump hotel in New York recently have been hotels in Chicago and Las Vegas. Due next is New York SoHo in 2009, and Toronto 2010. Then, without specified opening dates, are projects in Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans, and Waikiki in the US. And outside – in Aberdeen, UK; Baja, Mexico; Cap Cana, Dominican Republic; Dubai, UAE; and Panama City, Panama.


Ivana’s move into hotels is more complex. She has appointed US-based development company JMJ Hospitality as ‘Developer and Brand Manager’ for Le Diamond Ivana Trump (what I will call LDIT) projects, in which the Dubai-based Indian-expatriated Darvesh Group is also a partner.


The first two LDIT projects are due in Bahrain and Dubai; construction is due to start early-2009. Darvesh has an unusual strategy – to create branded development projects, with big-names, such as business and movie names, and build 10 properties in 10 cities. LDIT is the first of its planned four brands. Projects will not necessarily be hotels.


There is already humbug. JMJ said the response it received from the announcement of projects in Bahrain and Dubai was “one of the best ever in the Gulf”. Er, but how would JMJ know what level of response others received – even for Donald’s rival project in the same city, Dubai?


Based on this start, and the complex business arrangement, I believe Ivana’s hotels look unlikely to trump Donald’s – and may not even get much further than this start-up announcement.


The Fox

The Economist is impressed. Not me.

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

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.






2008 May 19




The Economist is impressed. Not me.


I mean that. The Economist (TE), a magazine that usually questions the subjects it covers, appears to have fallen for the charms of the travel business. I am, like many others, in awe of much of what the publication does, and so I am somewhat timid about attacking, nay, ridiculing something that it has produced.


But I must do the work TE usually does – on its report on the travel business in the current issue:


[] The report subject was ‘Travel and tourism’. TE appears somewhat ignorant about the travel business, and over-influenced by those big names in the travel business. For instance, what is “travel and tourism”? According to the World Tourism Organization, ‘tourism’ includes ‘travel’. Geoffrey Lipman – now of WTO, then of WTTC – invented T&T because he could not call his WTTC ‘WTC’ because it was too close to WTO.


[] TE has fallen for WTO’s marketing ploy and named the body ‘United Nations World Tourism Organization’. This is wrong. The body is the World Tourism Organization, which it would like to be abbreviated to UNWTO. Another sign that TE is a newcomer to the travel business.


[] One statistical table is sourced as ‘United Nations’. The data is actually from the WTO. Also, TE’s definitions are wrong – it should be ‘International visitor arrivals’ not “tourist”.


[] Dubai “is expected to  become the world’s busiest airport”. TE’s editors should go back to read their book of maths, preferably while sitting in one of New York’s three airports, one of London’s five, or, of course, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai.


[] “…the world’s only seven-star hotel…” Who says so? The hotel, and now TE. What happened to the sixth star? Most counts go up to 5-stars. Does TE know that the better hotels do not like to describe their lowest room category as ‘standard’, so they use ‘superior’. To me, you can’t have something ‘superior’ if you don’t have something ‘standard’.


And does TE know that hotels, particularly in Asia and now the Middle East, use ‘5-star’ with abandon, so those hotels that aim for something genuinely 5-star have to say more, so they say 5-star-deluxe or even 6-star. Now a hotel has come along (yes, in Dubai) that has taken this hype up another rung, and denominated itself 7-star. Now endorsed by TE.


[] “Dubai also boasts the Middle East’s first indoor ski-slope.” Hopefully the last as well. Today it might be a boast, tomorrow it will be a shame – until powered by solar power. We are surprised TE glides over this matter – despite its comments on the environment later in the report.


[] “…the top brass of the World Travel & Tourism Council…might have found lots of reasons to be gloomy: a weak dollar, sky-high oil and food prices, looming recession in America and a credit crunch on both sides of the Atlantic…[yet they] were fairly chipper.” Welcome to the travel business. Has it ever predicted a downturn? Only post-event does it issue such negative commentary, usually accompanied by ‘resilient’ comments, and genuine examples of resistance to downturn.


If TE (and the WTTC) really need to know, there is already a downturn this year – in some sectors of some markets. Yet there is also continued and remarkable growth. For instance, I forecast China’s outbound will top 50mn this year, although the first quarter seems to have started slowly with growth around 16% – but see below.


[] WTO “has resorted to monitoring international tourist arrivals only. It therefore knows where tourists are going to, but has a much less accurate idea of where they have come from.”


Eh? “Resorted” sounds like a change; the WTO has been doing this not quite as long as TE has been around, but a long time. “Tourists”? Hopefully all travellers, not just tourists.


“It therefore knows where tourists are going to, but has a much less accurate idea of where they have come from.” I don’t really know where to start on this one, but…


The WTO gets its data from national bodies and adjusts some (but does not tell its audience that, or how – so, for instance, its China total is different from the (3) sets of data that China itself produces). So the WTO’s figures are as good or  bad as theirs. And, in general, the biggest mistake WTO and others make is collection of data by passport instead of residence. The US-national financier based in London is categorised as ‘US’ when he arrives in China – by China and thus by the WTO.


[] “Arrivals in [Asia Pacific] were 185m”. Hopefully TE (and the WTO) knows about 100mn of these are border crossings from Hong Kong and Macau into China. (But not, ironically, a US-national financier based in Hong Kong; he is listed under ‘US’!) Under WTO’s own rules, most of these should not be counted. The WTO ignores its own guidelines – probably because it does not want to mark down its visitor counts. If the financial business has problems with grading agencies, the travel business has problems with the WTO.


[] A nice table on increased spending 2009-18 is meaningless – but nice. It needs to be attached to other numbers, such as actual visitor numbers. But I presume the main reason for the table is to impress politicians – and TE – and for that it will probably work.


[] TE quotes Bill Marriott, head of the eponymous hotel company or, hopefully, misquotes him. “The Middle East, India and China are the next big thing”. Except for the Mideast (which I don’t think is big), that comment is about 10 years behind the reality in China, but probably only 1-2 years for India – although “the next” appears wrong. “He thinks that the industry will be bigger in the Middle East”. Can’t really argue with that; in fact I reckon the industry will be bigger in most of the world. “China will dwarf even the Middle East.” What planet are we on? “Will”? How about ‘However, China dwarfs the Middle East’.


[] China outbound in 2007 “reached 47m”. That’s a new figure to me (I estimated 41mn), but if correct and from the same base as earlier figures, then the remarkable fact is more than the number. Because it would mean growth was 36%. However, until there is more confirmation (honestly, I don’t think we could be that wrong), treat that figure with caution.


[] China says it will “add 97 airports by 2020”. We hope TE knows that China repeats last year’s targets (that c97 has been the annual statement for about 30 years) and that it usually includes expansion of existing airports.


[] For all TE’s misunderstandings on China, it appears to understand India better. Although it did not note an important reason – visas, the cost and difficulty of getting them – for poor results in terms of visitor arrivals. It was going to cost me US$75 for a visa for a 3-day visit – but I could not find out how long it would take to actually issue the visa, so I did not go.


[] “Carlson is developing around 50 hotels in India compared with only ten in China.” I am not bothered about the figures, but I know the sentiment of this comment is wrong. It could be Carlson has signed a franchise agreement for its economy brands (Country Inn, Park Inn), which TE did not mention. And that it has not yet signed a similar agreement in China.


[] “Thomas Cook bought Thomas Cook India”. Whoops. TC also sold TCI about two years ago to the company it has now bought it back from. That was dysfunction at TC, although remarkable that it did not have the elementary foresight about India’s potential when it sold.


[] The industry “recovered quickly after [9/11], SARS, [start of war in Iraq], and the [Indian Ocean] tsunami [end-2004]”. Well, yes and no. The US is still below its pre-9/11 visitor count in 2000 – seven years on. Recovery from SARS was indeed rapid for some destinations although for some, such as Hong Kong, it was boosted by a change in visa regulations for travellers from Hong Kong – creating a new category which now produces 50% of the visitors in Hong Kong from China. The war in Iraq was a non-event – sorry, as far as the travel business is concerned – so ‘recovery’ is the wrong word. The tsunami recovery was also quick – about one year. Bali was not mentioned (two serious bombing incidents), but recovery there has not been so obvious.


[] TE touched on the environment. But I was not impressed with most of the commentary. No mention, for instance, of my favourite – Six Senses plans for a zero-emission resort in the Maldives. That, in turn, inspired the start of the new report at our organisation, entitled ZERO.






The Fox



Hotels. Slanging Langham.

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

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.



2008 May 06


Hotels. Slanging Langham.

My hotel management skills are well known (albeit amongst a tiny and dwindling band of supporters) so I feel confident to detail my view of the current situation at Langham Hotels. And at the same time, make a bid to write a strategic review for the company, which will surely be commissioned soon.


Firstly, I note that the company’s expansion has burgeoned since the previous operational head of the company, Kevin Murphy, who has met me, left the company two years ago. Latest are in Shanghai and Krabi, Thailand. Earlier post-Murphy expansion has been in China – Beijing (two, due in 2008) and Changchun (due in 2009).


In his time, Murphy himself presided over four conversions from other hotel management companies to the Langham brand (one of which, from Hilton in London, also brought the Langham name). And including changing the group name from Great Eagle Hotels to give the group eight hotels, although two still do not carry the Langham name. But widespread – nothing in Asia, for instance, apart from home-base Hong Kong.


Were these new contracts stored up, or is the new post-Murphy team more effective?


Secondly, the man now under the spotlight is K S Lo, chairman and part-owner of the group, no less. Earlier, Lo, who has met me, had been a public figure in Hong Kong but was less visible during Murphy’s tenure, although he was still involved with the company. Lo is a qualified architect, and is the brother – somewhat estranged – of Y S Lo, who has met me, and who runs the rival Regal Hotels group in HK.


Thirdly, there is the environment. One of Langham’s new contracts is in Krabi, for what it calls an eco resort. But all I can find (admittedly I did not look very hard) is that the resort is being built in an untouched part of the country, ergo, the resort is ecologically-friendly.


This is not quite what I understood by ‘eco’, although there are many others who are stretching the definition of what is EF.


Fourthly, brands. The company has two main brandnames – Langham and Langham Place – but the difference between the two is not always easy to see. Langham tends to be more upmarket and, sometimes, have old-style-cum-‘heritage’ architecture.


But some new signings are mixing the message. Shanghai, for instance, is a Langham, but it also gets a ‘boutique’ appendage – yes, because it is small. And that resort in Thailand, as well as being an ‘eco resort’, is a Langham Place. I believe that this is starting to get a bit difficult for customers, not just me, to follow.


The Fox

Hotels. Accor flaw.

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

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.



2008 May 05

Hotels. Accor flaw.

A good thing for consultants is that they are not paid to say things are great as they are; no need to make any change. They are paid to say the market has changed, the customer has changed, and the competition has changed. And therefore you the client must make a major strategic structural (and expensive) change.


So it may have been with Accor, which is doing ‘things’ with its brands – in particular All Seasons, Pullman, and Sofitel. It has taken in All Seasons, which was created in its Asia Pacific division in Australia, for non-standard hotels – which would mean primarily, existing hotels. Whoops. Isn’t that was what Mercure is/was? Maybe AS is a notch above Mercure, but I would say half-a-notch.


Then there’s Pullman. Brought back. I believe, and I may even have said so, that Accor should not have suppressed Pullman. It is/was known as a name signifying luxury, even if there were not many hotels under the name when Accor bought. Instead, the company pushed ahead with ‘Sofitel’, a name which signified, well, nothing really. Except perhaps a company providing software for telephone companies?


Now, 10 years later, it has brought back Pullman – but is placing it a notch below Sofitel.


Pullman will become the brand for non-standard hotels, like Mercure/AS but higher upmarket of course. And Sofitel – which has not made it at the top level, will now be pushed up higher, to around Mandarin-Oriental level.


Of course Accor will succeed in these branding moves, but at what cost? Either slower development for the company, slower profits, lower GOPs, etc. But as long as there are a few prominent Sofitels at that level – say in London, New York, Paris, Shanghai – will anyone notice?


The Fox

Tourism. We have a problem.

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

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.



2008 May 02

Tourism. We have a problem.

We have noted before that the World Tourism Organization talks a lot – a lot – about the dangers of climate change. But does little else.


Its talk has now been hyped-up a notch with its proud ‘Davos Declaration’. If a meeting is held in the heartland of the World Economic Forum, then the outcome must be important, yes? We look for that relevance in vain.


Some pointers:

-The conference (actually the second; the only real action at the first was to decide hold a second conference) “urges action by the entire [travel industry] to face climate change as one of the greatest challenges to sustainable development…”

-The travel industry “must rapidly respond to climate change…if it is to grow in a sustainable manner.”

-The travel industry has “committed itself to take a long-term strategic position on these issues, starting now.”

-The conference also proposed a third conference on the same subject.

-The travel industry should:

  -“mitigate its greenhouse gas emissions, derived especially from transport and accommodation activities”;

  -“adapt [travel] businesses and destinations to changing climate conditions”;

  -“apply existing and new technology to improve energy efficiency.”


And so on. The WTO needs to stop, and think:

[] The above is nothing more than describing the problem and noting that some things must be done. We knew that.

[] The WTO needs to end its constant attempt to link climate change with its other aim – ending poverty. There are sometimes links between the two, but often not. But by constantly stating a link, however tenuous, the WTO undermines one of its two main messages. Is the travel business saving the world from destructive climate change, or saving part of the world from poverty?

[] The body needs to try to stick to the truth, not support its friends regardless. For instance, the WTO praises Sri Lanka for its aim of becoming the first carbon-neutral destination. However well-meaning, this is a farce.

[] WTO has also started wrong with its (clumsily-named) ‘UNWTO eTourism Climate Change Award’. This will go to those that encourage carbon-neutral travel. Whereas that sounds good, too many are happy to believe that paying someone to plant a tree after taking a diesel-bus tour is a ‘good thing’ for the environment.


We propose that the WTO initiates awards for practical, actual cuts, and not offsets. We could think up hundreds, most small. Here are three:

[] Resorts and hotels to be graded according to their use of renewable energy – Green Globe 5 for 100%, GG1 for less that 30%, for instance.


(These ‘Green Globes’ actually come from WTO’s rival, WTTC. But WTTC has not done much with its GG, despite earlier promise. We propose that WTO simply takes over the GG name. We believe that WTTC will not protest much.)

[] Grade conferences. Stop providing printed information for each conference delegate, and replace with CDs and/or a table from which delegates can take what they want.

[] Convert diesel (and some petrol) tour and transfer buses to LPG or bio-diesel. Hong Kong’s government

paid to switch its diesel-powered taxis to LPG. Who’s next?


The Fox

Airports. Bangkok blunders.

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

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.



2008 May 01

Airports. Bangkok blunders.

AOT (Airports of Thailand), which runs six airports in the country, is responding to criticism of what appears to be remarkable inefficiency in planning for its Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (SVB) airport, opened just over one year ago. AOT has a 6-point improvement program, mainly for service standards at SVB.


However, the problems are more serious than smiles. One is capacity. Design passenger capacity for SVB is 45mn; to reach that would have required only 5% growth on 2006. Jan-Jul was actually down 3%, but that was after moving some flights to the reopened old Bangkok airport – at Don Mueang (DMG). Annual passenger count at DMG is about 6mn, so if DMG had remained closed, then SVB would indeed have been likely to reach that 45mn ceiling this year.


There is a planned second phase at SVB, but some shortcomings are unforgivable. For instance, SVB’s 51 gates handle a pitiful 40% of flights; not much better than the one-third at DMG when it was closed in 2006. AOT admits that it should aim for 90% at SVB – but that should have been from Day One, not at some undetermined date in the future.


So more gates are needed. But the surprise is that the airport planning was so wrong. It is worth noting that before SVB was opened, IATA criticised the airport as being primarily a monument. That the airport is huge is about the only non-negative remark that can be made.


At present DMG has been reopened for some domestic flights only. But it seems almost certain that international flights will be added. The decision is due to be announced this December or January, but this seems to be a formality. SVB is near-full, and some airlines (notably low-fare-airlines such as Air Asia that do not worry about connecting traffic) will not move if they would have to split their flights between the two airports.


So AOT is likely to push the government to open DMG for international, and is likely also to offer discounts on landing fees to encourage Air Asia and others to move, and perhaps others to start.


That this will mean abandoning the government’s aviation strategy for SVB, the realities now require this. DMG will probably also seek to attract express cargo airlines, again to relieve SVB.


AOT is now also introducing financial incentives to encourage new flights into airports in Thailand other than Bangkok – also relieving pressure on SVB capacity. These are up to 95% discount on the landing fee (for, say, a new twice-weekly flight Seoul-Phuket). There are numerous conditions (for instance, discounts for Phuket are available only in the low season) but discounts are generous nevertheless.  


The Fox