Trottings: In Sicily.

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TROTTINGS = Trip Jottings

The Fox Trots: Travel Stories from The Fox.


Trottings: In Sicily.

Casa Giannone

The GPS guided us to this out-of-the-way 6-room B&B in Santa Flavia, just outside Palermo, Sicily. I missed a turning, and although the GPS self-corrected, I think the corrected routing was actually the ‘back-way’ to the inn.


It was like A TV ad I have seen (I think for AirBnB or where the driver drives past unkempt and mildly-threatening villages and villagers, mud tracks, darkness, until arriving at a wonderful and welcoming property.


CG’s owner came out in the street with a torch to signal our arrival. Driving up a short slope to a stone parking piazza, and we were home! I found out the following morning that only the last quarter of the property was actually the B&B; the others were private residences.


CG is stylishly rustic – with modern conveniences. The room was a delight in terms of colours and design. No meals (B&B only).


Breakfast in a room with 4-tables and 4-chairs. Adequately provisioned continental breakfast. We were the only guests (this was winter after all; there was another guest in the B&B, but we saw no-one).



Pozzallo villa

No name, no number. About 5 minutes out of town. We booked via AirBnB, and best to go to that site, see the photos, read the reviews. (But see also my ABB experience below.)


There is not much to add. An impressive (but not in the grand sense) dwelling, beautifully rustic. And equipped so completely – even an electric shaver!


Highly recommended for a big extended family. Three bedrooms sleeping 10, and a sofa bed in one of the common-use rooms. There is one lounge, one dining room, kitchen, and two bathrooms, covered garage, terrace, garden. And all big and spacious.


You need a car though.



AirBnB silence

I booked accommodation (not those described above), and then found that the property did not have what the owner said it had (in my case, on-site parking). So I cancelled immediately – two hours after I booked. The owner eventually returned the money I had paid. But he was not reprimanded for false advertising, and the false promise continues on the ABB site.


Worse, AirBnB kept its booking fee. Worse again, ABB has still not responded in any way to my complaint, and has kept its money.



The Fox

Trottings = Trip Jottings


Trottings: Down-rating Emirates.

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The Fox Trots: Travel Stories from The Fox.


Trottings: Down-rating Emirates.

I was disappointed by a recent Emirates flight – this one Malta-Dubai with a stop in Cyprus. I have two complaints:


Safety remonstration

A serious malfunction. During the transit stop in Cyprus, passengers are asked to identify their hand baggage. Any that are not matched with a passenger are offloaded. Cabin crew do the checks with passengers, and also climb the seats to visually ensure that no bags are left in the overhead baggage-bins.


On my flight, my section of the plane was not checked during the Cyprus transit stop. Passengers were asked to take their bags down from the baggage bins, but there were no further checks.


That means:

-no check was made to link bags with passengers.

-no visual check of baggage bins to make sure they had been cleared.


I noticed that the other side of the aisle these checks were done thoroughly – and some checks, such as the baggage bins, done twice.


(As part of this procedure, albeit not a safety matter, the crew should check that the empty seats were prepared for joining passengers. This also was not done on my flight; as a result the seat next to me had no earphones, and the cushion was not in its place.


Inflight containment

The aircraft was an A330 but its IFE seemed to be from the time even before Emirates was established. Not one screen in the main cabin for all passengers, but not much better.


For instance:


-Small screen, and mine happened to be out of focus.

-The programming did not start until about 20 minutes after take-off, whereas I and I presume many other frequent Emirates passengers expect service-on the moment I board the aircraft.

-Worst was the programming. It ran to a fixed time schedule, so if the film you wanted to see was third in the programming, you would have to wait about four hours for it to start. If you wanted to watch the sports program on rugby, you might have to watch hours of golf, football, or whatever. Same for all programs.

-Also bad on my flight was programming of movies – unless you wanted to watch all the old Star Wars films. I didn’t, so there were just two channels of films left for me. And the film I wanted to see was No 4. So I never saw it.


In addition, the food service operation needs reworking. I got my meal, but drinks service came when I had just finished my dessert. Surely Emirates has been around long enough to organise this properly? Or is this sloppy crew service?


The A330 operating the Malta flight is not a leased-in aircraft. It is part of Emirates’ fleet. The crew said there are just a few routes with this old IFE system. And says they should be converted, but by putting B777s on the routes, by this October. And the route changed – to a circle route Dubai-Tunis-Malta-Dubai.



The Fox

Trottings = Trip Jottings


Trottings; sailing Genoa-Palermo.

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TROTTINGS = Trip Jottings

The Fox Trots: Travel Stories from The Fox.


Trottings; sailing Genoa-Palermo.

Herein is my story on my 20-hours crossing in January on the high Mediterranean seas. (Er, that’s me and the other 1000 passengers, 150 vehicles, 10 giant trucks, 20 dogs, and probably a guinea pig or two.)


Start reasonably well, although the boarding-location of the company, GNV (Grandi Navi Veloci), was not clearly marked in comparison with some others – such as the MSC cruise line. Cold windy wet night as vehicles waited two hours in line. Lots of stairs (six levels) to climb to reach our floor. There are lifts, but superbly inadequate for a ship this size – two, each with space for about six with no baggage – so that generally means maximum four people.


Cabin good and well equipped with four berths, but too warm and no temperature control in the room, and windows not openable of course.


We had booked three meals (dinner breakfast lunch) for the crossing, and the self-service cafeteria closed for dinner about 2330 (many of the timings for many things were different from those announced or written or given by crew members). Our limitations were (two breads, one starter, etc) were somewhat complicated to follow, but not a problem.


I did not visit the ship, but there was live music in the bar area. And one a-la-carte restaurant.


One floor up was what was called Fido Park, an external area for dogs to pee and pooh. I think in the summer this is an open deck area as there were also shower points here. Also kennels on this level for passengers who had not booked a cabin.


I am surprised. GNV has been considerate enough to provide a (large) space for dogs. But there were no plastic bags for owners to scoop their own dogs’ pooh. The ship’s crew did that. How often I don’t know. I never saw this taking place although the Park was not full of pooh so either dogs hold back, or it is cleaned every 2/3 hours. I doubt it, but maybe.


At night, lighting of this area is poor. Dogs are smart enough to avoid stepping in other dogs’ pooh, but owners are not so smart. And if I step into some, and then return to the ship, then I spread pooh on to the carpets. Also, the fact that it is a pee-pooh area is not clearly marked, and so there are some passengers just taking a walk, and not looking where they walk.


So, GNV needs to:


-Reduce park area for poohing, but leave the current size for walking.

-Provide square soil-filled area for poohing – 5x5m would be big enough.

-Provide plastic bags for pooh-collecting by owners.

-Improve lighting (in fact there is none; the light comes from other lights), and add/improve signage.


Ok, enough of the dogs.


As we neared Palermo, announcement said we would be arriving at 1900 (schedule was 2000, crew said 1830), and that we had to vacate our cabin with baggage by 1700!


But we were not allowed access to our vehicle, and so we and all passengers had to gather in the public area. There was seating for about 10 people, and so the rest were sitting on the floor, on the stairs; everywhere. Organised chaos.


In summer it must be big un-organised chaos – there are nearly 600 cabins and the ship handles just under 3000 passengers!


Worse, we did not arrive at 1900 as announced, but around 1950, and the ship had stopped moving for about 10 minutes before we were allowed to access our vehicles.


During this time – three hours – there was no public announcement until the one saying we could go.


I presume this procedure follows GNV’s operational rules, and not the whim of our crew. And so I presume the reason they wanted us out of the cabins so early was so that they could prepare them for the outward journey (which I believe was 2330 – 3h30m after we arrived. Some advice then:


-Use Palermo-based workers to prepare the cabins on arrival. A big-number team working hard for two hours.

-If that is not possible (it is possible, so the reason would be financial if GNV uses another system), then vacate the cabins in rotation, so that not everybody piles into the public areas. For instance, our cabin might not have been worked last, around 2000, so why leave at 1700?

-Allow people to wait in, say, the cafeteria (which was closed during this time!), and provide or offer some beverages, or even some other food. That would result in more satisfied customers, and more revenue for GNV.


When we were finally allowed access to our vehicles, the ship emptied in a remarkably quick time – about 15mins. Yet another reason to reduce or change that ridiculous 3-hour wait sitting on the floor with baggage – and thus not easy to move.


GNV sails from financial crisis to financial crisis. It has had almost constant changes in ownership or capital input – substantial ones in 2004, 2011, 2012, 2013. My experience indicates management is incompetent – although I would presume working with ships’ crews would make it difficult to introduce efficiencies.


One of its CEOs, who left in 2010, Silvano Cassano, has just had an unhappy period as Alitalia CEO, August 2014-September 2015.


After my experience with GNV, the company will go under in the next three years – hopefully not when I am on board!



The Fox

Trottings = Trip Jottings

Trottings; product updates from ILTM Cannes.

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TROTTINGS = Trip Jottings

The Fox Trots: Travel Stories from The Fox.


Trottings; product updates from ILTM Cannes.

Some product updates from the ILTM exhibition in Cannes earlier this month. Business news reports from some of these organisations to be published in the Asia Pacific and Europe editions of the Travel Business Analyst newsletter.


Aman, London-based.


-Has 30 hotels. Recent openings include Tokyo this year. Due next: east central Japan, near Nagoya (an onsen, hot springs, 24 suites, due March 2016); Shanghai (26 villa, some of the material (stones and trees) comes from buildings lost when the Yangtze was flooded to create a dam, due 2017).


-Now concentrating on adding properties in the Americas and Europe; it has specific plans for Costa Rica, Mexico.



Como, Singapore-based.


-This little-known group will be 25-years-old in 2016, from when it started with the Halkin hotel in London. It now has 13 hotels with 700 rooms.


-Has opened the Point Yamu Beach Club on an island away from the Phuket resort of the same name.


-To complement its two resorts in Maldives, it now has a 6-berth yacht, which can sail for as long as three days.


-Refurbished its Metropolitan hotel in London.



Doyle, Ireland-based.


-Called the Doyle Collection. Owns and operates in Bristol, Cork, Dublin, London, Washington – more than one in Dublin and London. Sold its hotel in Boston to fund refurbishing at others.


-Despite the small numbers it has two categories – five what it puts at luxury level. London (Bloomsbury, Kensington, Marylebone), Westbury in Dublin, Dupont Circle in Washington. And what it calls ‘urban hotels’ (although the luxury hotels are also in urban areas) – Bristol, Rivoli in Cork, Coke Park in Dublin.



Four Seasons, Canada-based.


-New this year: Bahrain, Cap Ferrat (in the south of France, a takeover), Casablanca, Dubai (Jumeirah), Johannesburg, Moscow (actually in the Red Square), Seoul.


-Due in 2016: Abu Dhabi (Al Mayrah, end-year), Dubai (Financial City, 100 rooms, April), Surfside Florida, Hawaii (Oahu at Ko Olina), Kuwait, Kyoto, London (Ten Treaty, sic, 100 rooms, late-year), New York.


-Others: Madrid 2018.



Langham, Hong Kong-based.


-Has 20 hotels, and 20 planned, in all brands.


-This year launched its Cordis (Latin for ‘of the heart’) brand. It defines this as ‘upscale’. In every Cordis there will be a ‘family room’, which could mean a room with kitchenette.


-Cordis (also awkward: ‘Cordis’s’?) planned – two in Shanghai due 2016, with Hefei, Qingdao due later. Langham expects to have Cordis’s in London, Middle East, New York.


-Also relaunching Eaton, which it describes as a ‘lifestyle’ brand. Has bought six pieces of land around the world, and will announce specifics in mid-2016.


-Its ‘Langham Place’ sub-brand is described as a ‘contemporary’ brand. Is building in Bali (173 rooms, due 2017); Qingdao; Jakarta (2017); Dubai (168 rooms, 2018).



Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong-based.


-New hotels include two in Beijing, which will give it 10 in Greater China – a definition which includes Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan. Its other projects are Chengdu, Chongqing, Shenzhen.


-Has 11 restaurants with Michelin stars, and 16 stars overall.


-Aims to have what it calls “legendary hotels” in the cities where it has hotels.



Minor, Thailand-based.


-In the past year it has opened in new continents – Europe, South America.


-Bought Tivoli brand hotels in Portugal and South America.


-That brings another brand, when it is already confusing as some hotels/resorts in some brands are similar to those in others. Its brands are Anantara at the top, then in alphabetical order Avani, Elewana, Oaks, Tivoli.


-Anantaras planned: Banana island (20-minute ferry from Doha, Qatar, 141 rooms, now open); Oman (116 rooms, due May 2016); Sri Lanka (at Tangalle, central south coast, 152 villas/suites, due this month); Mozambique (actually an island off the main island, 12 rooms, due January 2016).


-New offers: sky safari in East Africa, with a 10-seat aircraft; Expedition Africa, self-drive with travel in 10-vehicle convoy.



Oberoi, India-based.


-Has 33 hotels.


-Now on what it says is its biggest expansion. Includes: Marrakech (with what are over-large rooms at 200sqm, 87 rooms, due Q2 2016); Ajman (the emirate next to Dubai, and which is being promoted as a Dubai beach hotel, 116 rooms, due August 2016); Chandigarh, India (20-minutes outside the city but called a city resort, 61 villas, due September 2016). All managed, not owned.



Oetker, Germany-based.


-New owners of its hotel in Marrakech this month; refurbishing is planned.


-A 2-year renovation program planned for its Lanesborough in London.


-New: Sao Paulo, 140 rooms, due 2017, management; New York, 170 rooms, due 2018, conversion. Will have equity in NY but it will not say share.



Peninsula, Hong Kong-based.


-In 2016 the company will be 150 years old, although it has only 10 hotels. The founding Kadoorie family is still involved.


-In Paris, one year since it opened, has opened six suites there with gardens and view of the Eiffel Tower.


-Renovating Chicago, as well as offering ‘Keys to Chicago’, where it works with various attractions in the city, such as art shows, to offer special packages to guests.


-Sizeable renovation in Beijing, which involves converting two rooms (and sometimes three) into one. The result will be 60sqm rooms, and a room count down from 350 to 230.


-Company is also investing in art, not just organising visits to experience it. That includes hoisting a full-size model bus on the lower roof of its Hong Kong hotel.


-Has a tour product, the badly-named Peninsula Academy (it is not a training place of any type), with a list of varying special travel experiences. The PA name is unlikely to be changed because it was a senior person, possible a Kadoorie, who proposed it.


-Projects include Istanbul, London, Yangon.


-No dates for Istanbul; we believe not before 2019.


-The London hotel would be a new-build following a demolition. Although announced nearly three years ago, the company still does not have planning permission. But it maintains that this is a normal time scale – particularly for this location, which is at Hyde Park Corner near the gardens of Buckingham Palace, the queen’s residence. As a result it cannot give an opening date; we believe not before 2020.


-Similar for Yangon, although announced a year ago, the delay is more related to the political developments in the country, resulting in delays for many government decisions. The hotel would be a conversion of what was the headquarters of the country’s railway company. We believe it will not open before 2018.



Relais & Chateaux, France-based.


-Its 540 properties count 330 Michelin stars.


-Before, R&C charged its member properties 5% per reservation, but now it charges a fixed US$12. The theory is that in exchange, properties will pay higher commission to travel agencies.



Six Senses, Thailand-based.


-In 2016, opening another in Seychelles, on an island off the main island.


-Its Bhutan properties – five lodges in different locations – are due to open over a year; we believe mid-16-to-mid-17. There would be 20 rooms each in Paro and Thimpu, and fewer in the other locations; 83 in total.


-Opening 53-flat residences in the France ski resort of Courchevel. However, SS will not handle bookings into the residences; that will be run by the Savills real estate group.


-A ‘Private Reserve’ 4-room resort is being added within its 82-villa resort in Oman.



Small Luxury Hotels, UK-based.


-Company has 520 properties, average 48 rooms; 10 years ago it was 60.


-Following some rule changes, SLH says it will be harder to join the association, and harder to stay in. With its search for new properties, it expects the balance (those arriving, those leaving) will produce a total not greatly changed at end-2016.


-Has added 25 anonymous property inspectors, +33%, and now has 100. They will inspect member properties every year, instead of every two years.


-Restarted its printed hotel directory, and its printed SLH Cookbook.



Viceroy, US-based.


-Opening: Beverly Hills (L’Hermitage, was Peninsula, due January 2016, although already shown in its portfolio list); Dubai (on trunk of The Palm, 400 rooms, due September 2016); Algarve, Portugal, 147 rooms, due 2017). Management also names Colombia (Cartagena) and Chicago, both due 2017, although these are not on Viceroy’s official list. Contrarily, on that list but not confirmed by management, is a 2nd hotel in Dubai, due 2018.


-Is adding the Zetta hotel from 2016, although already shown in its portfolio list.


-Has lost its hotel in the Maldives.


-GDS code changing this month to VG.



Different reports on these topics are published in the Asia Pacific and Europe editions of the Travel Business Analyst newsletter, the Net Value and People-in-Travel monthly-report, Facebook-Travel-Business-Analyst. They highlight some important observations on the data as presented here.








The Fox

Trottings = Trip Jottings


Trottings: British Airways; London’s buy before; Small Hotels un-hospitality; Lost in Cannes; AirBnB silence.

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TROTTINGS = Trip Jottings

The Fox Trots: Travel Stories from The Fox.


Trottings: British Airways; London’s buy before; Small Hotels un-hospitality; Lost in Cannes; AirBnB silence.


British Airways PAGPFTs.

Some PAGPFTs (pronounced PAG-puffed); People Are Getting Paid For This, from a recent BA flight France-UK.


-No French please. No announcement was made in French, not even a recorded one for the safety demonstration. And nothing during the flight, even for the arrival. Yet they have recorded announcements, why not turn them on? PAGPFT.


-For food service, three crew members served the boxed sandwiches, and then left just one to serve the drinks. Each of those drink transactions took about 10-times longer than the food transaction. PAGPFT.


-Printed instructions advised me to put rubbish in a supplied plastic bag, and hang on seat back. But there was nowhere on the seat back to hang it, unless you tore a bigger hole and hung on tray catch. And even then the cabin crew member said just throw it in the big plastic bag she was dragging behind her. So even if the bags are recyclable, BA could save money and the environment by not giving them out in the first place. PAGPFT.



Buy before

Buy your London transport tickets before you arrive. At London Gatwick station, there were perhaps 100 people in the line for tickets. Same for Victoria station. It has become important to transact more online, not only for convenience, but that the operators are cutting staff – to encourage more online activity.



Small Hotels, smaller hospitality

Small Luxury Hotels was the host at the opening evening cocktail of ILTM Cannes earlier this week. They must have spent US$100,000 on champagne. Pity then that there was no food (and I mean none).


I can only hope that Small’s hotel members know more about hospitality. And so time for those hoteliers to teach Small’s corporate managers a bit more.



Lost in Cannes

I would have thought management at ILTM Cannes would have picked up a few more skills at event management.


At the opening night at the Palais des Festivals, after the cloakroom, there were no (and I mean none) signs or helpers to tell guests where to get in. There were about 15 of us about 10minutes late, and we all tried different directions. I opened a door and heard noises and assumed that was the place.


After the event, there were no (and I mean none) signs or people on how to get to the reception. Again, we followed the noise.



AirBnB silence

I booked accommodation, and then found that it did not have what it said it had (in this case, on-site parking). So I cancelled. The owner – far from being reprimanded for false advertising – kept the money for one of the two nights booked.


Worse, AirBnB kept its booking fee.


Worse, ABB has so far (10 days) not responded to my complaint.


Meanwhile, the false promise continues – perhaps to catch others.



The Fox

Remember, in the parallel world, I’m an intellectual.

Trottings: Walking in Japan, Emirates, Airports – Dubai Incheon Haneda

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TROTTINGS = Trip Jottings

The Fox Trots: Travel Stories from The Fox.


Trottings: Walking in Japan, Emirates, Airports – Dubai Incheon Haneda


Walking trail in Japan

I took the train from Tokyo to Hachinohe near the tip of Aomori prefecture (thus near the tip of Honshu, and a crossing port for Hokkaido). Some comments:

-It’s a 3-hour ride from Tokyo on the Green Hippo (my name for the Shinkansen E5 train type).


-I hiked a section of the unsnappily-named Michinoku Sea Breeze Trail*, which starts in Hachinohe and is planned to be a 700km coastal trail – along the coast that the 2011 tsunami damaged.


-*I suggest a new name. ‘Michinoku’ is a geographical region of northern Honshu, and thus has factual logic. And ‘Sea Breeze Trail’ has a pleasant sound. But together the MSBT is a marketing dud – for an international audience. Either Shiokaze Trail (sea breeze) or Kaze Trail or run a social-media campaign to find a snappier name.




Dubai airport

-I walked out of two toilets because they were dirty. Third was also, but I was running out of time. The airport lives off transit passengers. Is it losing the task of serving them?




-It seems that problems with touch screens on board Emirates aircraft is becoming common.



Seoul Incheon airport

Good, although I have never thought it is better than Singapore Changi. Some comments:

-As a transit passenger recently, I had problems because you need a boarding pass to get through security to the desk where they issue boarding passes!


-Free massage chaise-longues . But I exited before the program finished because I felt this was a rogue chair intent on destroying backs.


-Movie rooms, chaise-longues, etc. In general good and clean.


-One fault I am surprised has still not been corrected. The moving walkway in the terminal fingers travel in only one direction. Hong Kong airport made that same mistake when it opened, and corrected it within a year. Seoul has not yet learned.




Tokyo Haneda airport

-With improvements, now much better than Narita in comfort, style, modernity, cleanliness (Narita is clean, of course, but Haneda is sparkling).


-No longer poor domestic cousin to Narita.




The Fox

Remember, I’ll be famous after I’m dead.


Interview: Steven Pan.

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TROTTINGS = Trip Jottings

The Fox Trots: Travel Stories from The Fox’s Friends.


Interview: Steven Pan

This interview with the chairman and CEO of Regent Hotels was conducted by Renee Chew, editor special projects at Travel Business Analyst. Parts may be paraphrased.


Renee Chew: Describe Regent.

Steven Pan: Our philosophy?

-The only thing we specialise in is luxury.

-The commonality of all Regent Hotels is uniqueness.

-Regent hotels are a collection, like an art collection. They don’t follow a cookie cutter model, so each hotel is its own niche.

I believe in the ‘luxury of no choice’.


What does that mean?

Where 1-2 options for guests at any one time. At an onsen inn in Japan, the staff do the same things daily, such as standing at the entrance, greeting the guests personally. Where the inn’s daily activities follow a set schedule, ie the same every day for simplicity.

Guests follow the same track experience at the resort, which allows all staff to wait on you at all times.

The best service is invisible until you need it.


What do people want?

-Privacy and exclusivity. This means not the big-hotel-big-lobby philosophy hoteliers had in the past.

-Simplicity in the hotel business is more relevant today than ever, because the world is busier than ever.

-Hotels should be familiar to guests, with accessible technologies like the ones in your home.

-You should partner with existing restaurant owners instead of creating your own.

-We focus on the three ‘B’s: bed, bath, breakfast.

-We prefer hiring staff who are new to the hotel industry because old habits die-hard.

-If you get the formula right at the beginning, you do not have to change later on.

-We prefer to develop mixed-use developments – hotel, mall, office, and serviced apartments with flexible configuration, where three bedrooms can be reconfigured to smaller units and studios if need be.

-Hotels must be run like a craft and a business.


What is your perspective on equity participation?

I have been on both sides, I have been an owner. If you are a minority equity owner and you are doing a bad job what can you do? If your CEO is an equity partner you cannot (well, it is difficult) fire him if he is a majority shareholder.

I believe you can either do a good job or get fired. This means create value, sustainable cash flow through bespoke concepts.


With the current stockmarket turmoil and economic slowdown in China, what adjustments do you have to make?

This is not going to be near the proportion of the financial crisis of 2008-09 or the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. It is part of a normal economic cycle and is symptomatic of regular economic over-expansion. This crisis is bound to correct.


Why did you invest in your Montenegro hotel?

The owners are four leading Jewish families who wanted to recreate another Monte Carlo in Montenegro – as there was a super yacht marina. The sale of attached residences financed the construction of the hotel.


Has your MBA and experience at Credit Suisse First Boston helped you?

Actually, our investment business is completely separate from our hotel business. We buy only from distressed sellers – fire sales.

We have three development guys who just look out for distressed properties. They make the company more money than thousands of other people in the real estate business.


The Fox’s Friends; RC


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