26 June 2008

$504 million fine to conspiring airlines

After a probe carried out by the US Justice Department, five airlines have been fined more than $500 million after their admission of conspiring to fix cargo rates, a move that breaks anti-trust laws.

Air France and KLM, now operated by a single company, are to pay $350m, Cathay Pacific $60 million, Dutch airline Martinair is to pay $42 million and Scandinavia's SAS $52 million. Statements from the justice department's anti-trust division mention that the fine paid by the single company now running KLM and Air France is one of the highest ever imposed.

The meetings carried out by these airlines consisted of them conspiring to and then imposing higher levies for the air transport of various goods, the result of which was unfair competition and increased prices for consumers. This conspiracy continued from mid 2001 to early 2006.

The US Justice Department has been carrying out investigations on airlines that have been fixing fuel surcharges to customers, and other companies that have had to pay fines include British Airways, Qantas and Korean Airlines.

Funnily enough, fuel surcharges are increasing anyway after soaring fuel prices, with crude oil reaching a new high of $140 a barrel. Unfortunately, (for the airlines) that fuel surcharge does not increase their profits.

25 June 2008

Third runway for Heathrow to stay competitive

Heathrow Airport is working at capacity and a third runway is necessary for it to keep its role as a competitive airport. Calls for Heathrow to cut the number of transfer passengers have been rejected as it would affect the economy of London and the UK as a whole. More than a third of people flying from Heathrow are transfer passengers, with Frankfurt airport being the only other airport in Europe carrying more transit passengers. Forcing people to use other European airports to reach the rest of the world would heavily affect the economy, according to the BAA, Heathrow's operator.

The decision on the third runway is expected later this year and it is facing opposition and criticism from environmentalist groups, local residents, who already have dozens of airplanes taking off and landing over their heads every day, and even the leader of the opposition, David Cameron.

Business lobby groups have recommended that before any decisions are made for further extensions to the airport, there should perhaps first be cuts in the number of flights in and out of the airport and operation changes, actions that could relieve some of the pressure from the incredible traffic the airport is functioning under.

24 June 2008

The Third Man is alive and well.

One of the most memorable films of all time, a landmark in film noir, a masterpiece of lighting and now, an exciting new tourist attraction. The Third Man has just got its own museum in Vienna. It's not as though the city needs this to give you reason to visit. It's Anchor Clock, the Belvedere Palace and St. Stephen's Cathedral easily hold their own, but to a film buff they are nothing in comparison.

This private museum near the colorful Vienna Naschmarkt is entirely devoted to this film, made in 1948 in Vienna. A comprehensive collection of original photos from all over the world shows daily life in the Vienna after the war as well as the cinema history connected with this legendary film.

First editions of Graham Greene’s novel to the film can be admired, as can a cinema projector dating from 1936. These were the projectors on which “The Third Man“ was first shown in 1950. In addition, the memory of Anton Karas, whose title melody played on a zither started a zither boom all over the world, is kept alive by autographs, music scores and children’s zithers. In the reading corner, one can browse through historic newspaper articles on the film.

Apart from all the film relics and memorobilia, the museum also delves into the darker secrets of the city's Nazi past. A true educational and cultural experience, not shying away from the past.

UA follows suit, fires 900+ pilots

United Airlines plans to fire 950 pilots, 15% of its current number of pilots, with further lay offs that could reach 1600 pilots. This is yet another repercussion of rising oil prices on the travel sector. We have seen BA increase the price of its luxury seats and Qantas facing strikes after staff demanded pay increases that the company couldn't afford, and American Airlines intend to cut 1000 jobs, all due to oil prices, and now UA is in the same boat.

As oil prices soar, airlines are trying as best they can to reduce the cost of running their businesses through all the methods mentioned above. Companies are discussing mergers as another way to somehow survive over the next few months, while stock value drops.

Overall, this paints a rather grim picture for the international travel scene, a glaring example of which is the "staycation", a term coined in the US, for people who are taking their holiday time but cannot afford to go anywhere and are in fact staying home. Cheap travel looks as though it may be a thing of the past as airlines cannot possibly cut back on technicians without risking the safety of their passengers, and will inevitably have to start increasing the price of tickets.

23 June 2008

Oil prices push BA first class seat cost

All that we seem to hearing about over the last few weeks is how the oil price crises is affecting almost every aspect of our life. And this price increase has struck in the airline industry once more, this time affecting the cost of Business, Club World and World Traveller Plus seats at British Airways.

In order to make some of their costs back, BA has increased the prices for their customers that enjoy the extra benefits of premium seating (extra baggage, space, meals, etc.). Their "first class" customers will have to pay a little bit more to cover the costs of the fuel. It is the third time this year that BA has had to increase the fuel surcharge in the face of constantly rising oil prices.

Last week it was Qantas that was facing problems due to oil prices and reports from Morgan Stanley state that there could be as much as a 40% increase in fares, an event that would strike at the very heart of the tourism industry.

20 June 2008

Sani hotel complex offers the best of Halkidiki

When most people think of Greece they tend to think of the islands. And undoubtedly, the islands are a great holiday destination, however they are somewhat limited as to how much you can see and do there. An area not as well known, but equally beautiful and well developed as far as hotels and tourist facilities are concerned, is Halkidiki.

Halkidiki is a peninsula with three "legs" extending into the Aegean, located in the north of Greece. Situated only 90 miles from the second largest city in Greece, Thessaloniki, and 30 miles from the Thessaloniki airport, it is easy to come and go as you please during your holiday if you are in the mood for a more urban cosmopolitan setting.

Some of the best hotels on the "first leg" of the peninsula are to be found in the Sani complex. The Hotel Sani Beach Club(5 star) is a large area ecologically protected, filled with the mainland’s vegetation, evergreens and pine trees, and borders with a small private marina on the seafront. There are too many things for you to do here than I could possibly describe.Sani Beach Hotel(4 star) is on the Sani cape and is surrounded by sandy beaches. There are restaurants, clubs, bars, tavernas in the resort itself, but being on the mainland means that your options are limitless if you choose to take the bus or drive in any direction. If you get tired of the white sandy beaches you can always drive to Thessaloniki and get some serious shopping done.

19 June 2008

Qantas strike brings stocks to 52 week low

More than 1000 Qantas engineers are expected to walk out of work for four hours next week in protest to the Australian airline's refusal of a 5% wage increase. The company had agreed to a 3.7% wage increase and work conditions had been accepted by the employees at the negotiations, but the meeting was interrupted when Qantas found out that the engineers were planning a strike.

Qantas' refusal of a 5% wage increase is very much down to increasing oil prices, which will count as 1/3 of the company's expenditure this year, and has caused them to ground flights, cut routes, and even reduce jobs.

Despite the planned strikes and walkouts, the safest airline in the world has stated that they will reschedule their flight plans and get all their customers to their destination on their day of travel. But is Qantas putting its reputation as the safest airline on the line with this refusal? "Qantas engineers are committed to the airline and have campaigned hard to maintain high safety standards, but by driving down wages and conditions, Qantas is putting its international reputation at risk", stated the federal secretary of the workers' union (BBC).

17 June 2008

Tunisia, an oasis between the desert and the sea

On the southern shore of the Mediterranean lies Tunisia, a country with a history as long as any of its neighbours. The sandy beaches of the Mediterranean, hints of the vast expanses of the desert that extend deep into Africa, museums and antiquities from the Greeks, Romans and Arabs and bustling street markets where haggling is the norm. A North African mystique runs through the country and overruns your senses.

Two of the best places to stay at are Skanes and Sousse. Skanes is a suburb of the town of Monastir, full of shops and restaurants. Sandy beaches are within walking distance of the Hotel Primasol Golden Beach and the Ramada Liberty Resort Hotel, and both hotels offer easy connections to the international golf courses near them. Bars and restaurants can be found inside the hotels themselves, as well as pools for children and adults, water sports and other beach activities, all easily available.

Sousse is a busy town built around a walled medina and fort, considered to be the best in Tunisia. The relaxation of North Africa pervades the atmosphere at Hotel Kaiser, which is only 400 meters to the shops, restaurants and cafes of Sousse. There is also the potential to go windsurfing and parascending, if you prefer that to sunbathing and relaxing by the pool or on the sun terrace.

Temperatures are high early on in the year, so don't wait till high season. The earlier you book the better off you are.

13 June 2008

Virtual Bridal Shows means you only have to book the plane tickets

I have to admit, I never realised how stressful planning a wedding is. That is probably because I am of the male persuasion. I too want everything to be beautiful and go without a hitch (on the rare private occasion when I imagine myself getting married), but this extremely rare and very manly fantasy does not involve any of the actual work required for planning and carrying out a wedding. That is one of the reasons I admire women. I accompanied one of my best friends on a wedding dress hunt that went on for hours and promised to accompany her on the next one. I lied. I fear that men are the lesser sex when it comes to determination, planning and walking.

Apart from going on the wedding dress hunt, my friend had to call up caterers, photographers, flower shops, hotels (the wedding was being held in Venice), reception halls, musicians, DJs and a whole army of other professionals with jobs I probably don't even know the existence. All this while working in the City (London), a very stressful environment.

I wish I had known about Online Bridal Shows so I could have helped her sit in front of her screen and organise everything from there. It would have been so much more convenient that trudging through miserable London weather, taking trains, buses and taxis, and then, exasperatingly, not finding anything in the end. Online Bridal Shows is a new and innovative way
for brides to be to meet with local wedding planners, photographers,
disc jockeys and other wedding professionals. Plus, and this is my favourite part of it, you can use the website at any time of the day.

For the moment Online Bridal Shows caters mainly to the US, however, it looks like they have plans to extend their network to Europe as England pops up in its Locations folder, albeit with no professionals yet. You are able to look up professionals in all aspects of wedding organising and see past work of theirs with 3D tours, photos and audiostreams. All you need to do is download the free 3D software and you can attend what is normally a chaotic event with hundreds of people running like crazy from the quiet comfort of your home. In fact, it might even elicit some help from your male friends, like me, whose legs get tired easily.

Now I'm off to read their Bridal Stories section in order to steal some guy's incredibly romantic way to propose and write it down in that little notebook I keep that nobody knows about. What? It's a manly notebook!


11 June 2008

Rent a car in New Orleans and see unflinching pride and determination

When hurricane Katrina ploughed through New Orleans in 2005 the world was shocked at the devastation. Further shock came when months went by and nothing was done for the residents. But it has been 2 years now, and even though there is evidence of destruction, the locals have not given up. In fact, things are going back to the way they were. The blues requires suffering to ring true, and there are few others that have gone through such events and lived to sing about it.

Despite the destruction to many buildings, the Jazz Cafes and after hours bars have filled up, and the Mardi Gras and parades have returned to Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. All around the city are indications of the luxury of the deep south and museums stand witness to the diverse cultures living in the city. The best way to get around, if you intend to take in all the sights, is by car and I recommend to rent a car in New Orleans using SideStep, whose website offers a wide variety of cars for very low prices. In fact, as far as renting car rental websites go it is very well organised and simple to use.

So check out when the next Mardi Gras is, jump on a plane, get into your rental car and see what these people survived and how they are doing now. They'll be glad to see you and you'll be helping them get back on their feet.

10 June 2008

Thomas Cook buy Jet Tours, third major purchase this year

Well it has certainly been a busy year for Thomas Cook. After buying luxury holiday company Elegant Resorts in February and web travel company Hotels4u.com in April, they are now moving in to buy Jet Tours from Club Mediterranee as well as Canadian travel wholesaler TriWest Travel Holdings.

This £56 million move will secure Thomas Cook a healthy 10% slice of the French market quiche, as Jet Tours serves about 270,000 people a year. Apparently, the company still has enough cash to carry out the purchases and next year looks promising for them, as these moves have made them France’s third largest tour operator.

Undoubtedly, the booking, ticketing and reservation platforms Thomas Cook uses will be combined to simplify and expedite service to customers and decrease their costs. Income should also increase as these purchases will allow Thomas Cook to sell a wider range of products through well established names.

09 June 2008

London business or pleasure, Andaz, in the heart of the Square Mile.

Literally next door to Liverpool Street Station, at the very heart of London’s financial district and within walking distance of some of its trendiest bars, is a very unique hotel with a novel approach to its guests’ individual taste.
Andaz is trying to make a break from traditional hotels, and this point is brought home early on, as there is no reception desk inside the lobby. In their own words, Andaz is trying to look more like a home than a hotel and their lobby is more like a luxurious living room.
In fact, this surprising uniqueness and casual luxury extends to each of the floors and of this Hyatt owned hotel. No less than six design studios had a hand in designing and decorating the 254 rooms and the 23 suites, and each floor is unique, in order to fit the taste of the guest. However, make sure you book your room early on as it can get quite busy and you might end up in a room that does not fit you personal style. That is not to say that your room will not be steeped in luxury, just that you might find yourself in room that is very different to what you might normally expect.
Five minutes after your meeting in the City has finished you can be back in your room relaxing, and seconds after that in one of the five bars and two restaurants housed inside Andaz, all designed to perfection, with immense attention to detail.
Although, it is not the place to go on your honeymoon, it is great for business trips and city breaks.