Tourism in Thailand. Shirtless.

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FOXTROTS

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

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

2010 April 25

Tourism in Thailand. Shirtless.

P

OLITICS is not my professional area, although that does not stop me making comments – albeit through the travel-business entry-point.

Whatever many professional observers say (along the lines “Tourists are not being targetted…Tourists are safe”), many would-be visitors will simply go somewhere else while the anarchical situation in Bangkok continues.

Who wouldn’t? There are many other destinations that have culture and beaches and good well-priced hotels. True, the strong pull for sex-tourists to Thailand will mean that the drop in visitors will be less than it would be in other destinations. But I reckon that the fall in visitors to Thailand this month will be at least 10% and as much as 20%.

I estimate that visitor arrivals in the first quarter this year will have increased 1% on the (reduced) total in 2009. But in comparison with Thailand’s best Q1 (which was in 2008), the fall this year could be around 15%.

This is where my political analysis makes an entry.

Take as a given that the primary battles are between the good-guy red-shirts (ok; I’m a committed analyst…) and the bad-guy yellow shirts. Then add in another faction – perhaps the Thai equivalent of the tea-parties in the US? – wearing neither red nor yellow, and tired of the political disputes.

But with the visitor business – and doubtless other industries (apart from makers of shirts and fabric-dye) – will be losing income because of the problems. If my estimates are right, the 650,000 fewer visitors in Q1 equals a loss of US$650mn for Thailand.

With losses at this level, people will not have enough money to buy shirts – no matter whether red or yellow or green.

Shirtless in Thailand, then?

The Fox

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Air Asia X, Qatar Airways, Congo-Kinshasa, TUI/Air Berlin.

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FOXTROTS

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

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

2010 April 24

 

Air Asia X, Qatar Airways, Congo-Kinshasa, TUI/Air Berlin.

 

S

OME recent anecdotes from my travels.

 

 

Question from The Fox to Azran Osman-Rani, head of Air Asia X: “Do you sleep in that cap?” Reply: “Yes, the cap, and nothing else!” I laugh politely, passing on the credit for the riposte to Marilyn Monroe and Chanel #5.

 

 

Qatar Airways CEO told me that “all low-fare-airlines are crap airlines. You have to pay for a glass of water, or to go the toilet”. Er, but doesn’t that make them no-crap airlines?

 

 

Gorilla-viewing around the Nyiragongo volcano in the park of Virunga in North-Kivu province in Congo-Kinshasa has been banned. Closure of the park is not related to protecting gorillas, but protecting visitors against a much-more-dangerous species – local armed guerrillas.

 

 

I have been told by a senior TUI official – who requested that I not publicise the following* – that the tour company plans to sell its recently-acquired shareholding in Air Berlin within three years.

It was only last October that TUI announced it had bought 9.9% of AB, a move itself related to AB’s September purchase of part of TUI’s failing air business.

 

*The professional journalist rule is that requests for no-publicity are invalid unless said before – “I’ll tell you, but don’t publish it” . Because it is sometimes a journalist’s job to elicit information that interviewees might wish they had not revealed after revealing it.

 

 

The Fox

Trottings: Spain in Shanghai.

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TROTTINGS

Travel stories from The Fox & Friends.

2010 April 17

 

Trottings: Spain in Shanghai.

 

M

Y stay at the new elegant Gran Melia hotel in Shanghai as the guest of Gabriel Escarrer, the titular head of Sol Melia Hotels, was a charming experience.

Escarrer founded what became Sol Hotels in 1956 in Mallorca and expanded the group (including adding Melia Hotels in the late-1980s) into a 300-hotel multi-brand group. With his old-world charm and genuine enthusiasm, he sets the tone for hotel group’s renowned hospitality.

Despite his busy schedule, he took the time some months ago in Madrid to update me on the group. The company’s new hotel in Shanghai heralds its entry into China, late for a big international group. The Gran Melia is in Pudong, Shanghai’s financial epicentre, a stone’s throw from the landmark Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai Aquarium, Super Brand Mall, Luijiazui Metro, and the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower.

The hotel is architecturally distinguished, even amidst the impressive Shanghai skyline. Opened in January, it has seven F&B outlets, including a Spanish restaurant and Havana Cigar Lounge – infused with their Latino signature style.

Initially I thought my treatment was something special. However, after a few days of observations from the hotel’s Lobby Lounge Cafe, I noticed management and staff go out of their way to extend personalised service, greeting guests by their names. They have probably mastered the art of making their guests feel special despite the size of the hotel.

Currently opened are 350 rooms, including the Presidential and Imperial suites. The hotel is due to reach full capacity of 686 rooms in time for the Shanghai Expo starting May.

(Unfortunately, Sol Melia is trying to set a difference by using the Spanish ‘Gran’ instead of ‘Grand’ but in China, this is a hopeless case. Most will not notice the difference and use ‘Grand’, and others will assume it is a spelling mistake and correct it to ‘Grand’. I suspect it is the same in many other markets also; will Sol Melia one day bend to boring international realities and change it to ‘Grand’?)

 

I was picked up at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport by the hotel’s limousine for the 45-minute drive to the Gran Melia. Despite not speaking much English, the driver responded in Putonghua when I asked for names of locations of the places we passed.

Arriving from Singapore, a compact island city, I was struck by the scale and the vastness of the city of Shanghai.

General manager Alonso Romero and director of sales Raul Palomo Marugan greeted me at the hotel entrance on my arrival. I found this rather unusual, nevertheless impressive, as it was late Saturday on an Easter holiday weekend. Do not expect such a welcome!

Hotel staff fast-tracked my check-in, so there was no waiting time for the registration process. Instead of waiting at reception, I was escorted to my room.

I had lost my luggage keys, I thought of stomping on my suitcase to break the locks but fortunately the omnipresent Raul came to rescue. He summoned two hotel engineers to my door to help. With their tool kit they unlocked my suitcase without damaging the locks;

I thought this was rather ingenious and swore to buy combination lock keys in future to prevent these hassles.

Throughout my stay, most of the staff knew my name, and seemed to be able to read my mind and needs (or they were all selected for being clairvoyant perceptive). The 20 young Cuban staff comes pre-trained from the Sol Melia’s hotels in Cuba.

They and local staff went out of their way to be helpful though some local staff had difficulty with spoken English (or could it have been me speaking fast in my accent).

For instance, at 2AM on the day of my arrival, I asked the operator how to get online. She struggled to comprehend and respond to my request in English. I might as well have spoken Greek (which I don’t); however she was alert enough to send a duty officer to my room to assist.

I started to appreciate the challenges of the hoteliers in my interview with the hotel GM. He said “In general the hotel industry here has high staff turnover with at least a new hotel is opening daily in the city”. Deducting some of that growth (even for China, 365 in a year would be something remarkable), I do understand the challenge in finding multilingual or fluent-English experienced staff.

There was no currency exchange in the hotel yet (licence pending; this is China, where some simple things are near-impossible, and some impossible things get done immediately), it was late at night, cold outside, and I was too tired to step out in the cold windy Shanghai streets to find a moneychanger. I must have looked desperate enough that the duty manager read my mind and offered to help in exchanging some US dollars into yuan.

I asked for aspirin/panadol but after some futile attempts in finding directions to a chemist, the ever-present DoS, Raul, offered paracetamol from his kit – which saved me from looking for a pharmacy open late at night.

Raul, who never seemed to take a day off, was always personally attending to guest requests even though it was late weekend evening. His recommendations to me where to go locally were key to my unique Shanghai city experience and outside the hotel.

The young Cuban hotel receptionist gave me a useful address to shop. With her recommendations, I found low prices and a good variety of goods. Sharon Lee (regional head of sales for the group) patiently answered my many questions as well as dealing with a deluge of Shanghai Expo buyers.

At our Sunday brunch interview, GM Alonso insisted that Ricardo, the Cuban F&B manager, served me Cuban soup – my introduction to Cuban cuisine, and highly recommended.

My room was luxurious, spacious and tastefully furnished with a panoramic view over Shanghai’s famous Huangpu River and the Shanghai skyline. The spacious bathrooms are stylish and the room decor was tasteful and elegant. No kitsch here.

The Yhi Spa feels like an oasis after a hectic Shanghai day. The calm, exquisite experience with well-trained masseurs, herbal teas served was consistent with their reputation set by Yhi Spa at the group’s hotel in Bali.

The Latino management hospitality and personalised service exceeded my expectations with their eagerness and enthusiasm.

However my wish list would include:

-directory of useful iPhone applications for guests to download especially for first time arrivals in Shanghai.

-an audio Mandarin-English translator pronouncing Shanghai’s specific address locator on my iPhone (to explain to local cab drivers).

-an iPhone application “where to go in Shanghai” for 1- to 5-day stays, with shopping tips, currency converters, etc.

-Latin music in the background of the F&B outlets for ambience (perhaps nostalgia for my one-time visits, in the wicked era of Ibiza, in carefree-sun-drenched summers in Palma and the Costa del Sol).

Thanks:

-To Alonso Romero and Raul Palomo Marugan, who attended to the micro details of the hotel on a weekend on an Easter public holiday.

-To Ricardo, greeting guests personally and attentively at the Cafe, and for making what may be the best Cuban soup outside Cuba.

-To Sharon Lee, for her patience and response to my questions.

-To the charming Cubano staff of the Shanghai Gran Melia.

-All exceeded expectations in  guest service.

The Fox & Friends; RCL

 

Trottings: Not assuring.

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TROTTINGS

Travel stories from The Fox & Friends.

2010 April 07

 

Trottings: Not assuring.

 

O

K, here’s a test:

A person has booked three flights, on three different types of airline. On Easyjet, an adding-frills-airline in Europe; on British Airways, a regular airline; and on Hong Kong Express, an Asian regional airline.

On only one of these flights did the traveller take out a flight-cancellation insurance policy.

The traveller managed to obtain refunds on two of the three airlines. Only one airline refused a refund.

Yes, you got it. The flight which was covered by a flight-cancellation policy insurance.

The airline? Easyjet. The insurance company? Mondial Assistance.

Easyjet is a good airline. It is not a good company for insurance services. Mondial is not a good company as it accepts inferior policies – in order, I presume to win the Easyjet business. Therefore, it must take the opprobrium with Easyjet.

The Fox & Friends; MB