This Week’s Travel News: News you need to know

The Americans Are Watching, Room With A View? For $5 We’ll Uncover The Window and Two Best Hotel Lists – Wildly Divergent Results

The Americans Are Watching
Flying from Toronto to Cancun? The Americans want to know who you are. Why? Because you’ll be flying over their airspace. Coming this December, new U.S. ‘Secure Flight’ rules require Canadian airlines to provide personal information on passengers flying over the home of the brave. If your name happens to show up on a U.S. watch list or no-fly list, you could be stuck on the ground – even though you aren’t even landing in the U.S. When you consider that a large percentage of Canadian flights do pass above U.S. territory, it’s a daunting proposition. And while Canada’s privacy watchdog isn’t happy about these new rules, Chantal Bernier says there isn’t a doggone thing she can do about it: “There is a limit that is beyond us — and that is United States sovereignty over U.S. airspace. Geography works against us here,” Bernier told MPs at parliamentary hearings into the matter. Of course 99.9% of travellers shouldn’t be affected, but we all know that no-fly lists are not perfect, and officials say ‘false positive’ results will take 50 to 60 days to clear up – in other words, the trip is off. As Canwest News Service reported, Bernier told the committee that another concern is that passenger information supplied to the U.S. could be used for other purposes, including law enforcement and immigration.

Room With A View? For $5 We’ll Uncover The Window
With airlines now charging for everything from (literally) soup to nuts – and earning billions in the process — hotels have been watching with envy. Now some of them are taking a page out of the airline industry’s ‘unbundled’ approach by charging extra for anything from towels to air conditioning. As Consumer Traveler reports, the most extreme example is Asian budget hotel chain Tune Hotels, which boasts the marketing tagline ‘5-star sleeping experience at 1-star price.’ For one very low price – basic rates start as low as $5 per night in Asia – guests get a room, bed and bathroom. You can make the room as comfy as you wish by paying additional fees for things like air conditioning, hair dryers, toiletries and even towels. In September the chain will make its first foray outside Asia with a London, England location. Starting at 9 square metres (97 square feet), Tune hotel rooms are a little bigger than ‘pod’ or ‘capsule’ hotels like Yotel. One thing Tune does offer is a decent bed, which it says is custom-made by bedmakers who supply 5-star hotels – hence the ‘5-star sleeping experience’ claim. Don’t expect a mad rush by major hotel chains to follow Tune’s lead. In a somewhat counter-intuitive twist, luxury hotels already charge for ‘extras’ like Internet, parking and room safes, while mid-market hotels tend to get by on the value offered through an inclusive package where things like Internet, parking and breakfast are included. Dorothy Dowling, senior VP marketing and sales for 2,200 hotel-strong Best Western told TakeOffeh: “The mid-market will continue to sell the value package.” Will consumers embrace bare-bones hotels? One reader comment on the Consumer Traveler story shows there’s definitely a market for it: “Well, I did it! I refused the towel, and used my bedsheet instead.”

Two Best Hotel Lists – Wildly Divergent Results
Two online giants owned by the same company have each produced lists of the world’s top reviewed hotels, but the lists are so different they leave you wondering what to believe. The ranking of top ten European and U.S. hotels from both Expedia and TripAdvisor – which is owned by Expedia — reveal no common names whatsoever. One U.S. hotel featured in the Expedia’s global top ten didn’t even make the top 30 hotels in its own city, let alone the world, based on TripAdvisor reviews. In fact, none of the top ten hotels featured on the Expedia list are featured among TripAdvisor’s 719 top properties. So are these lists of any use at all? Expedia representatives say that it uses a “mathematical formula” to rank its properties, with over 1 million traveller reviews as the most influential factor. TripAdvisor’s approach is similar, although it claims more reviews. But Expedia also takes into account the views of 400 Expedia “market managers,” who contribute “their insight and firsthand knowledge of their destination’s best hotels.” And Expedia’s version does have another advantage: to post a review, travellers must have booked through Expedia. That’s different from TripAdvisor, where any registered user can post a review without having to prove they have ever stayed there. Critics – especially hoteliers – say that fact leaves the TripAdvisor system more prone to manipulation.

Air Canada Makes Progress, But There’s A Long Road Ahead
The recovery is underway for Air Canada, but the airline still has a long way to go, as the Montreal Gazette reported this week. “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” CEO Calin Rovanescu told analysts after the carrier reported a Q1 operating loss of $126 million, down from a loss of $188 million a year ago. The net loss was $85 million – better than analysts expected, but not a result to send stock soaring. And that stock has a long way to soar, considering that it was issued at $20 and now hovers around $2. Analysts point to a number of factors impacting AC success: fierce competition, low yields, volatile fuel prices, less cash on hand than its peers and ongoing labour uncertainty. The airline is doing a number of things very well – it continues to fill the vast majority of its seats (83% in April) and has successfully weeded out tens of millions in costs. But the Icelandic volcano stung the carrier for about $20-million, and business travellers still aren’t willing to pay premium prices. As Peter Hadekel points out in the Gazette, Air Canada doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room if things go wrong. And, in the travel industry something always seems to be going wrong.

By: Bruce Parkinson
Bruce Parkinson is a travel industry journalist and regular contributor to Takeoffeh.com as well as sister company, OpenJaw.com

Photo Credits: tunehotels.com, carlosphotos, Fotogma, aircanada.com




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