This week's travel news

Conquest founder launches new tour operator, WestJet's shopping spree, Hotels fake green

Take off eh.comThis Week’s Take offers you a capsule summary of the high and low lights of’s Daily Dispatches from the past seven days.

Slow Train Comin’; Tunnel Collapse:
Transit planners have been discussing a rail link between Toronto’s Union Station and Pearson International Airport for over 20 years. As the Globe reports, it will be at least another five years before it comes to fruition, but the project got a major step closer this week when the Ontario Ministry of the Environment approved a major rail expansion plan for the city’s west end. As with any Big Smoke mega-project, there has been plenty of opposition from environmentalists. The city’s medical officer of health made a strong case for the service to be electrified to eliminate diesel pollution. The end result is a compromise: approval came with strict conditions, including a requirement that locomotives be fuelled with low-sulphur diesel that is not yet commercially available but should be by the estimated 2015 start date. Cost for the project is estimated at $875-million and transit planning agency Metrolinx estimates that the Union-Pearson link will eliminate 1.2-million annual car trips from downtown to the airport. There was other news on the airport transportation front this week, as the Toronto Port Authority scrapped plans to build a tunnel to the Toronto City Centre Airport. The TPA ditched the plan because the timelines were too long to qualify for federal stimulus funding for the $38-million project. This story is far from over – you can bet the TPA will find another way to bridge the short gap from mainland to island.

Fixing A Hole: Original Conquest Vacations founder, Robbie Goldberg, is stepping back into the ring. He ran Conquest for 35 years before selling in 2007 – two years before the company went up in smoke. Goldberg says he sees a niche: “With changes in the marketplace of late, the supply and choices will become limited for consumers and prices will rise and a new tour company will offer more choices.” From an industry perspective that’s a highly debatable position, but for travellers it likely means the continuation of cheap packages. Goldberg released few details on the new company, other than it plans to offer vacations to sun destinations beginning in November, 2010.

Is That A Billion Dollars In Your Pocket? What’s WestJet up to? That’s been the subject of speculation ever since the airline successfully raised $172-million in equity, when it already had $732-million in its jeans. The airline says it’s just putting some change away for a rainy day, but analysts suspect WestJet is about to do what most of us do when we’re feeling flush – go shopping! Last week the speculation focused on Porter Airlines, that other aviation underdog that’s still flying high against most predictions. This week, the Financial Post reports predictions that WestJet might be seeking to swallow a tour operator to beef up its fledgling WestJet Vacations division. “The vacation travel market is fragmented and struggling with excess capacity that we believe will place significant pressure on margins and potentially provide acquisition opportunities for well capitalized players such as WestJet,” UBS analyst Fadi Chamoun told FP. Airline and travel industry consultant Robert Kokonis of AirTrav Inc. told that the tour operator purchase scenario makes some sense. He sees a couple of potential targets – Sunquest Vacations, which is owned by international travel giant Thomas Cook, and Sunwing Travel Group, 49%-owned by another international travel colossus, TUI Travel. Kokonis believes both TUI and TCook are tired of the low-yield Canadian market, and wouldn’t mind a well-paid escape route. Meanwhile, Air Canada has announced an initiative to raise another $300-million on top of the $1-billion secured earlier in the year. For some reason, everyone believes AC when it says it needs the money to fund current operations.

Sort It Out Please: The average hotel guest creates about a kilogram of garbage every day, much of it comprised of materials they would likely sort into recycle bins at home. But according to The New York Times, the majority of hotels still don’t recycle, despite reams of PR puffery about ‘going green.’  Hotels are great at asking you to use your towels again or not change the sheets every day (although most of the time the housekeepers seem to do it anyway). They’re eager for you to ease up on the heat and air-conditioning, and turn off lights when you’re not using them. Those are all good things, of course, but the common denominator is that the hotels save money, which makes ‘going green’ a bit of a doddle. Recycling poses more trouble. Housekeeping carts need to be redesigned to accept sorted waste, workers have to learn new procedures and hotels have to store recyclable materials until they can be taken away. Sort of like what you and I had to adapt to, just on a larger scale. To be fair on this issue, Canada has some hospitality leaders when it comes to recycling. Both Fairmont Hotels and Delta Hotels and Resorts are international industry leaders in green hospitality efforts, and the Hotel Association of Canada is boosting efforts with its Green Key Eco-Rating Program.

Hey! You With The Light Fingers: As a kid growing up, it seemed like every house had ashtrays, and many of them featured the Holiday Inn logo. For some reason, having Holiday Inn-branded merchandise around the house made people feel ‘well-travelled.’ Towels were a frequent pinch too, of course, until Dear Abby weighed in on the issue by saying hotel towel-takers were no more than common thieves. This past August, however, Holiday Inn held a ‘towel amnesty day,’ forgiving all past terrycloth transgressions. Towels aren’t the only things people pilfer from hotel rooms. As Britain’s Telegraph recently reported, everything from grand pianos to wild boar heads, televisions to curtains check out along with greedy guests. Some people even steal the room number right off the door. But the worst, the absolute worst, was the guest at a British hotel who stole the owner’s pet dog. We hope the perp caught fleas.

Photo Credits: HooRoo Graphics, Steve Debenport

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