Monday, 29 April 2013

No free wi-fi? Stay somewhere else!

Having to pay for wi-fi  at your hotel may finally be a thing of the past as many hoteliers come to realise they are losing customers because of it. In a recent poll by where more than 8,600 hotel guests across 26 countries were surveyed, over 66% of them said free w-fi is the one thing they want to become standard this year. In fact, 34% said they would only pick hotels that offered free wi  in the first place. To put this in a better perspective, just 11% said they would be happy to pay for it, that's a whopping 89% who won't. I was in Italy last week and most of the hotels there now offer it free, and even more surprisingly, I was offered free surfing at The Luxor in Las Vegas earlier this year. Beware though, there are still many who may seem to offer "free wi-fi" but in reality cloak it with conditions:  the first 30 minutes free a cheap trick offered by Premier Inns, as a perk for gold standard loyalty card holders, or down in the lobby area where we all huddle around the reception couches just grateful for such a generous opportunity from the management.
I remember a GM once telling me they justified wifi fees because it was provided by a third party network who offered 24 hour support, a service the hotel could not provide. This is, in my view, a load of hogwash. Hotels see it as a revenue stream the same as a mini bar, and the classier the property, the more expensive the charges get. I kid you not when I tell you I have seen a 24 hour internet charge from one luxury hotel of £25. What they should be doing, is treating it as a cost, the same as soap, shampoo or laundry. And the truth of the matter is, once they see guests leaving them in droves for the lure of free on line access from a competitor, they will change their tune. So next time you are facing an internet charge, vote with your feet and go stay somewhere else.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

007 Plays Golf Again at Stoke Park

The iconic contest between Sean Connery's James Bond and Goldfinger at Stoke Park Golf Club in Buckinghamshire is one of those classic cinema moments that have become legend. Who can forget the gamesmanship or Oddjob's hat beheading a statue! Almost 50 years on, Stoke Park is partnering with EON Productions to host the inaugural James Bond Golf Day on 28th June 2013, with profits donated to Spinal Research. With Aston Martin, Virgin Atlantic and Champagne Bollinger sponsoring the event, the 25 teams will be Bond for a day with a typical black tie dinner finishing things off in the appropriate 007 style.

Stuart Collier, Director of Golf at Stoke Park:  ‘Next year will be 50 years since Goldfinger was released in the cinemas, and at Stoke Park, we are very proud of our Bond heritage. We have had two Bond films shot here and in 1997 scenes from Tomorrow Never Dies were also filmed in our Ballroom. The idea behind the golf day was to celebrate that heritage, and to create something truly unique and authentic.’

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Titanic 2: Thousands sign up for maiden voyage.

It seems on the surface, Clive Palmer's audacious project to build a replica Titanic has been embraced with open arms by an adoring public who yearn to see her sail once again. Reportedly some 40,000 people have signed up for her maiden voyage in 2016. However, many of those attending the flurry of presentations he has conducted around the world seem rather more dubious. Is this a genius idea, or simply a foolhardy project doomed to failure from a man with clearly too much money to burn. Palmer, a mining mogul and one of the richest men in Australia, sees the rebirth of the Titanic (an almost exact replica with a few modern additions, particularly in the health and safety category)  as a way of creating the ultimate romantic cruise; a piece of history yet to be written. Titanic finally sailing in to the port it was destined to. Others see it as a floating Edwardian theme park and quite possibly a cruise in the worst possible taste. Cunard who currently have the only Southampton to New York route, are naturally dismissive, primarily because they see it as "morally wrong", but I see their response as simply a way of dealing with a potential threat. There is no denying it is a fantastic  brand, after all, with one cruise ship looking just like any another on the high seas these days, you won't have much difficulty spotting Titanic. 

Titanic 2 is currently being built in China at a state owned ship yard that has never before built a passenger liner. That said, the new ship will have the best of both worlds; the exact style and luxury of the original, with the modern technology of today's super cruisers. The maiden voyage will leave Shanghai for Southampton under escort from the Chinese navy and continue on to New York. The British navy has been invited to escort it across, whilst the US Navy will bring it back on its return journey.

With some passengers rumoured to be offering up to £1M for a first class ticket, this will either be a project of visionary genius, or disaster waiting to happen again.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Tablet and E Reader take off and landing rules to be abolished?

In a recent study commissioned by the FAA (The Federal Aviation Administration) the thorny issue of passenger electronics was investigated. We've all had experience of having to switch off our e-readers, tablets and phones before take off and landing, even though many have flight mode enabled (the sole reason for having it there in the first place) and wi-fi and Bluetooth switched off too.

It seems the results indicate tablets and e-readers show no obvious interference with aircraft systems, and the FAA is seriously looking at allowing these devices to be used, by the end of 2013. Phones however, are still considered  to be a threat.

This does seem perfectly logical, after all pilots use iPads themselves in the cockpit, so it makes sense we should be allowed to carry on reading or playing games during take off and landing.
But this does beg the question about portable phones anyway. I know there has been the odd time when I have mistakenly left my phone switched on in my jacket stowed in the bin above and survived to tell the tale. I've also seen many passengers simply ignore the rules and leave them on anyway.
I'm sure if we were told that doing this would lead to our demise, no one would attempt to argue with impending doom, but there is simply no stringency in this area, with many flight attendants just giving a cursory check as they walk down the aisles.

There must be firm guidelines and this study is a welcome move in the right direction.

Let's just hope the rest of the world follows the FAA's example.

Air New Zealand, the World's best airline?

I recently flew to Los Angeles with Air New Zealand and tried out their Premium Economy Spaceseat and Economy Skycouch services. For me, this airline has long led the way in passenger facilities and service, but its new aircraft fleet  of Boeing 777-300's is another level entirely.
The funky music playing in the toilets and the in seat ordering and texting was a first indicator that this flight may be a little different. After all, the simple act of ordering a hot drink and a snack from the comfort of my seat  gets a thumbs up from me for a start. The full menu was available for me to look at too, along with a host of other interesting flight tit bits to browse  if the mood takes.
The Premium Economy Spaceseat however was a triumph. Equal to many other business class seats, this was a revelation. A wide pod like seat with a full size comfy pillow and a bean bag to rest my feet on, it's an area designed for you to literally use as a temporary home. Snuggle up with both feet on the seat (there is enough space) or stretch out and use the bean bag to support your ankles.The seats along the centre of the cabin are designed with couples in mind, sharing the combined space for even more comfort, facing each other for a meal or lying together. True cuddleclass!

The Spaceseats seats don't recline, they don't need to, so no infringing of personal space from the person in front of you. The meals were very impressive: proper plates and cutlery, a great choice and good New Zealand wine to back it up. There's even the same choice of power as business class,  USB and world compatible sockets so no danger of batteries running dry.

Skycouch is simply a genius idea. Whether you're a couple looking for some extra space or you have restless kids this solution provides you with your own row of three economy seats. But this is where the clever bit comes in. The arm rests fold up and the foot rests come up level with your seat to create what is effectively a flat bed space. You get two full size pillows each and special belts to keep you secure while you're sleeping.
Air New Zealand has set the benchmark for comfort for all classes, not just for those passengers who turn left when they board. The Premium Economy fare can be double that of economy, but well worth the money in my book and considerably less than business class. Skycouch at around $200 extra per person is an absolute must for anyone flying economy. Is Air New Zealand the best airline in the world? It certainly is right up there.