Today (February 26, 2021): February 2021 luxury travel news.
Every last Friday of the month, you can read my news round-up of what’s happening in the world of luxury travel and aviation. In this issue:
- The Waldorf Astoria brand is coming to the Seychelles
- Qantas is likely to fly its Airbus A380s again
- W Hotels opens a property in Melbourne
- Cathay Pacific relaxes face mask rules in First and Business Class
- Sri Lanka opens for quarantine-free “bio-bubble” tourism
- Etihad is the world’s first airline with a fully vaccinated cabin crew
- Mandarin Oriental announces a luxury Resort in Da Nang, Vietnam
- Namibia’s national carrier ceases operations
1. The Waldorf Astoria brand is coming to the Seychelles
Hilton announced the signing of management agreements to bring its iconic luxury brand Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts to the Seychelles. The property is scheduled to open in 2023 and will build upon an already impressive Hilton portfolio on the archipelago, in addition to the soon-to-be-opened Mango House Seychelles, LXR Hotels & Resorts and Canopy by Hilton Mahé. A truly exclusive luxury experience, the resort will offer a collection of 59 seafront villas all equipped with private pools. Guests will have access to six restaurants and bars, a spa, kids’ club, outdoor observatory, tennis courts and a marine conservation discovery center – all within the sanctuary of Platte Island. The island itself lies just over 130 km (80 mi) south of Mahé and is renowned as a nature lover’s paradise, covered with palm forest and surrounded by a coral reef and lagoon. A small airstrip allows for access to the island from the main airport of Mahé. In an effort to create and use renewable energy as part of the resort’s operation, many buildings throughout the grounds will be equipped with solar-paneled roofing.
2. JetBlue unveils new Business Class for its transatlantic flights
American low-cost carrier JetBlue unveiled a reimagined version of its popular Mint experience, which first disrupted the market with a fresh take on premium travel at an “unpremium” price in 2014. JetBlue’s first complete redesign of Mint again sets a new standard – this time on Airbus A321 transatlantic flights to London – featuring 24 private suites in a 1-1 layout with a sliding door for every Mint customer, a custom-designed seat cushion by Tuft & Needle, and countless design touches that help every customer feel at home in the air. As part of the refresh, JetBlue will also introduce its latest innovation, the stunning Mint Studio, offering the most space in a premium experience from any USA airline. Each A321 will have two Mint Studios in the first row, providing ample room for working or relaxing, and featuring an extra side table for added productivity, a guest seat that can accommodate an additional Mint customer during flight, and the largest lie-flat bed of any U.S. carrier. Last year, I flew with JetBlue to the Caribbean and loved the experience (read my review here).
3. IHG introduces its luxury brand InterContinental in Morocco
IHG Hotels & Resorts, one of the world’s leading hotel companies, has recently signed an agreement with Immohold Hospitality, to introduce the InterContinental Hotels and Resorts brand in Rabat. The signing is aligned with IHG’s strategy to build on its luxury portfolio and expand into key gateway markets across the MEA region. Expected to open in Q1 2022, the 5-star luxury hotel will be situated in the heart of Morocco’s capital city. Ideal for business and leisure travellers, the hotel will be perched within Rabat’s elite diplomatic district in proximity to a number of embassies and government institutions. InterContinental Rabat will feature 156 exceptionally-designed guest rooms, 950 sqm of meeting space, a signature spa and extensive health and fitness facilities. With five distinct dining destinations, guests will enjoy a variety of cuisine, from authentic to contemporary options. IHG currently operates 116 hotels across 7 brands in the Middle East and Africa, with a further 53 in the development pipeline due to open within the next three to five years.
4. Qantas is likely to fly its Airbus A380s again
According to Flightglobal, Qantas is likely to fly its Airbus A380s again. Speaking during a Eurocontrol event, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce explained that while all 12 of the airline’s A380s will remain grounded for at least three years, “we do think there are going to be opportunities to deploy those aircraft”. The carrier grounded all of its A380s during the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to suggestions that it might follow carriers such as Air France in permanently removing the type from its future fleet plans. Joyce states, however, that Qantas will continue to have “scheduling windows” that are likely to make A380 operations viable when international services return. “If you’ve ever been in LA between 10pm and midnight, you see six or seven Qantas aircraft departing for Australia, because it’s the only time that works with curfews,” he says. “So, instead of flying multiple frequencies right on top of each other, an A380 that’s fully or nearly fully written down, if it generates cash, will absolutely work.” He also cites the potential for A380s to return at “airports that have slot restrictions like Heathrow.”
5. W Hotels opens a property in Melbourne
In the heart of an eclectic dining and edgy fashion district, W Melbourne brings the community’s laneway culture and emerging music scene to life. Drawing on the city’s diverse character, W Melbourne’s design inspiration is translated into vignettes of Melbourne’s streetscapes, letting guests uncover the dynamic city’s past from behind the scenes. W Melbourne has 294 luxuriously stylish guest rooms and 29 suites, with design details curated to reflect Melbourne’s fascinating history and culture. For example, the hotel’s Wonderful, Fabulous and Mega category rooms are inspired by the neighboring street-level newspaper kiosks that back to the 1960s. Each room features floor-to-ceiling windows with stunning skyline views. W Melbourne’s distinctive restaurants and bars are all set to amplify Melbourne’s dining landscape with innovative, original takes on the city’s multicultural cuisines. Fit & Wet on Level 14 will inspire the W ‘Detox.Retox.Repeat’ brand signature wellness philosophy, offering spectacular views alongside an ultramodern fitness facility, gold-roofed indoor pool, and DJ booth.
6. Cathay Pacific relaxes face mask rules in First and Business Class
According to The Standard, Hong Kong based carrier Cathay Pacific allows passengers who are in Business or First Class to remove their masks while lying down for sleep in the plane. The company issued an internal notice to the crew members, stating situations where passengers are exempted from wearing masks. One says “when a passenger is lying flat in Business or First Class, they can remove their masks.” Some flight attendants criticized that this practice raised the risk of spreading the virus, and may cause complaints from other passengers. They also expressed concerns about the airline company neglecting their health. Cathay Pacific told The Standard that the latest guidelines are designed to help the crew members understand the circumstances which mask wearing is exempted. “Seats in First and Business Class are more spacious with partitions, and passengers are exempted when lying flat for sleep,” it explained. The airline company also stated that the aircraft are equipped with filtration systems that are capable of filtering more than 99% of dust particles, including viruses and bacteria.
7. Sri Lanka opens for quarantine-free “bio-bubble” tourism
According to CNBC, Sri Lanka reopened its borders with a requirement unlike any country that had opened before it – one that neither grants travelers free rein of the island nor boxes them into a hotel room for two weeks. Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando referred to it as a “new concept” developed by the tourism authority, which allows tourists to travel the country in “bio bubbles,” or roving semi-isolated groups that let travelers sightsee without mixing with the local population. Sri Lanka’s “bio bubbles” allow holidaymakers to move around the island provided they stay in approved hotels, visit approved sites at specific times, travel via independent transportation, undergo frequent Covid-19 testing, and refrain from intermingling with the local population These rules must be followed for the first two weeks upon entering Sri Lanka. Thereafter, guests are free to interact with the local community and move to an accommodation of their choice.
8. Etihad is the world’s first airline with a fully vaccinated cabin crew
Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, has become the first airline in the world with all its operating pilots and cabin crew vaccinated to help curb the spread of COVID-19 and give passengers who travel with the airline peace of mind. Tony Douglas, Group Chief Executive Officer, Etihad Aviation Group, said: “We proactively made the vaccine available to all our employees to not only help combat the effects of COVID-19 but to make travelers feel confident and reassured the next time they fly with us. We are the only airline in the world to make COVID-19 testing mandatory for every passenger and crew member before every flight and now, we’re the first airline in the world with 100% vaccinated crew on board.” This achievement was made possible through Etihad’s ‘Protected Together’ employee vaccination initiative which was formally launched in January this year. Building on the UAE’s Choose to Vaccinate campaign, Protected Together is about helping staff take proactive, personal steps towards protecting themselves against COVID-19.
9. Mandarin Oriental announces a luxury Resort in Da Nang, Vietnam
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group announces that it will manage a new luxury resort with branded residences in Da Nang, one of Vietnam’s most popular leisure destinations. The project is scheduled to open in 2024. Mandarin Oriental, Da Nang will sit on a spectacular stretch of beach which links Da Nang in the north with Hoi An in the south. It is well located for guests to explore the attractions of the surrounding area, notably Hoi An, My Son and the royal city of Huế, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. The contemporary design will incorporate many natural Vietnamese elements and local cultural references. Accommodation will comprise 69 villas and 18 Residences at Mandarin Oriental, each set in their own landscaped gardens with private pools. A variety of cuisines will be offered at five restaurant and bars, all with waterfront settings. Indoor and outdoor event space will provide a chic backdrop for meetings and social gatherings, including a beachfront pavilion designed for wedding celebrations. The resort will also features a large, beachfront outdoor pool, a water sports pavilion, an extensive spa, and a children’s club.
10. Namibia’s national carrier ceases operations
Namibia’s national carrier announced it was ending operations after the Southern African country’s government approved the loss-making airline’s liquidation. According to Africa News, Air Namibia had failed in its multiple recovery attempts despite several years of state bailouts. Over 600 workers are set to lose their jobs. All employees are reportedly set to receive 12 months of pay as part of a severance package. The airline also said that passengers with bookings should contact them for a refund.
— AirNamibia -carrying the spirit of Namibia (@airnamibia1) February 10, 2021
From its hub at Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport, the airline operated regional flights to neighboring South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Zambia, and Botswana. It also flew longhaul to Frankfurt Airport in Germany. The airline operated a fleet of 10 aircraft including two Airbus A330s. The origins of the airline trace back to November 1946, when “South West Air Transport (SWAT)” was established. The airline began jet operations in 1989, leasing a Boeing 737-200 from South African Airways. It then became known as Air Namibia in 1991.