Today: April 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:
- InterContinental will open a hotel in Barcelona
- Emirates begins digital verification of Covid-19 medical records
- Hyatt’s Andaz Brand debuts in Bali
- Iberia announces a new route to the Maldives
- Alaska Airlines officially joins oneworld
- Regent Seven Seas Cruises announces its return to sail
1. Madrid’s Hotel Ritz reopens as Mandarin Oriental property
This much-anticipated reopening comes after the extensive restoration in the iconic property’s 110-year history. Originally designed and built under the supervision of legendary hotelier César Ritz, the hotel first opened its doors in 1910. Over the last three years, it has been carefully restored, enhancing its facilities and services while preserving the unique Belle Époque character of the original building. Spanish architect, Rafael de La-Hoz, has been instrumental in the historical restoration while French designers, Gilles & Boissier, have overseen the interiors, increasing the property’s appeal to local and international guests alike. Each of the 153 luxuriously appointed rooms, including 53 suites, now enjoy a chic and contemporary residential style. The Mandarin Oriental hotel is poised to become one of the most innovative culinary destinations in Spain with five dining concepts overseen by three Michelin-starred Chef Quique Dacosta. Wellness facilities include a heated indoor swimming pool, an intimate spa, vitality pool, experience showers, a steam room, and a gym.
2. Qatar Airways operates the world’s first fully COVID-19 vaccinated flight
The flight took off on April 7th from Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar and completed a 3.5-hour roundtrip that flew over the Persian Gulf and Oman. The journey showcased all the measures the airline has put in place to ensure the highest standards of safety and hygiene on board, including its latest innovation, the world’s first ‘Zero-Touch’ in-flight entertainment technology. The flight was operated by the airline’s most technologically advanced and sustainable aircraft, the Airbus A350-1000, with the flight also fully carbon offset in line with the carrier’s environmental responsibilities. Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker said: “Today’s special flight demonstrates the next stage in the recovery of international travel is not far away. We are proud to continue leading the industry by operating the first flight with a fully vaccinated crew and passengers and providing a beacon of hope for the future of international aviation.” Although everyone aboard QR6421 were vaccinated for COVID-19, Qatar Airways still practiced enhanced health and safety protocols. Face masks were still worn in addition to socially distanced seating and pre-flight sanitization.
3. Rosewood announces an intimate, all-villa resort in Japan
Rosewood Hotels will open a resort on Mikayo Island in Japan’s Okinawan archipelago in 2024. Approached through verdant sugar cane fields, Rosewood Miyakojima will occupy a secluded peninsula surrounded on three sides by white sand beaches, dramatic rock formations and stunning ocean vistas. The resort’s 55 villa accommodations will feature private pools, landscaped gardens and unobstructed sea views. Conceived by Netherlands-based Studio Piet Boon, the architecture and interiors are seamlessly designed to immerse guests in the natural surroundings and express harmony with the island through the extensive use of local materials. Four restaurants and bars will include relaxed beachfront concepts showcasing fresh seafood, prized island-raised beef, locally distilled spirits and craft beer. With a stunning seascape as a backdrop, the resort’s indoor and outdoor event venues will host unforgettable destination weddings and private celebrations. Asaya, Rosewood’s pioneering integrated wellness concept, will offer treatment rooms set amid private gardens, indoor and outdoor hydrotherapy facilities and a menu of programs and services influenced by local healing traditions.
4. ANA installs world’s first hands-free toilet doors on aircraft
All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s largest and 5-star airline for eight consecutive years, has introduced the world’s first hands-free door that allows easy access to lavatories on its aircraft. The innovative door was developed as part of the initiative, and will help limit potential vectors for the transmission of pathogens. The new lavatory door is equipped with a large inner door locking knob and an additional handle so that passengers can use their elbows to unlock the door. Because the door mechanism is different to those found on other aircraft, signage has been placed near the lavatory to provide operational instructions. The hands-free lavatory will be installed on 11 Boeing 787-8 aircraft, two Boeing 787-9 aircraft, and eight Boeing 777-200. The initial installation will be for aircrafts serving domestic routes, while ANA hopes to introduce the system to all domestic and international aircraft in the future. “Guided by the principles of ANA Care Promise, we have continued to invest in the development and implementation of innovative technologies because the health and safety of passengers and our staff is the top priority,” said Shinichi Inoue, Senior Executive Vice President, Customer Experience Management & Planning. “The hands-free lavatory door is the latest example of us putting this principle into practice as we look for ways to make the travel experience safer and more convenient.”
5. InterContinental will open a hotel in Barcelona
Located on the site of what was the Crowne Plaza Barcelona, the hotel is undergoing a complete transformation to align with the InterContinental brand’s aesthetic of discreet luxury and global sophistication. Designed by the Spanish-based, Brime Robbins consultancy, InterContinental Barcelona will offer 273 elegant and spacious rooms, along with a Presidential Suite and 17 junior suites. InterContinental Hotels & Resorts is famed globally for signature bars and restaurants helmed by Michelin-starred Chefs and up-and-coming talent, and InterContinental Barcelona will be no different. Drinking and dining will be elevated with three magnificent restaurants, one of which will be headed by a Michelin-starred Chef; a Cocktail Bar; the Rooftop 173 and the Terraza Montjuic, designed for hosting events. A signature Club InterContinental experience will also feature prominently, and a 1,200m² spa. InterContinental Barcelona will join the emblematic InterContinental in Madrid, located in the center of the Spanish capital, and more than 200 InterContinental Hotels around the world.
6. Emirates begins digital verification of Covid-19 medical records
Emirates and the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) have begun to implement full digital verification of COVID-19 medical records connected to testing and vaccination for travelers based in the UAE. Emirates customers who have undertaken a PCR test in Dubai can choose to check-in without presenting their physical COVID-19 PCR test report. Moreover, customers who have received their COVID-19 vaccination at a DHA health center in Dubai can, together with their COVID-19 PCR test results, have their documents synchronized during flight check-in. The new streamlined verification procedures will enable secure and faster processing times for customers departing from Dubai International Airport. The information will then be matched-up with the entry requirements of the destination. Emirates will only process the relevant information specifically related to the COVID-19 entry requirements of the customer’s destination. Once check-in formalities are completed, information related to COVID-19 medical records will be immediately discarded from the Emirates systems.
7. Hyatt’s Andaz Brand debuts in Bali
Offering a contemporary take on the traditional Balinese village and its way of life, Andaz Bali is located in the heart of Sanur, a quaint seaside village known for its old-world charm, picturesque beaches and spectacular sunrises. The resort’s overall concept reflects the locale and is inspired by the surrounding villages, from its intimate scale with buildings nestled amid the lush greenery to the use of the distinctive red brick, a traditional construction material in Sanur. Designed by the Bangkok-based Tierra Design and Spin Design Studio in Tokyo, Andaz Bali features 149 guestrooms, all designed in contemporary Balinese style, using locally sourced materials such as bamboo, marble and teakwood. Andaz Bali offers 5 innovative culinary venues inspired by the lively dining culture in Indonesia. Connected via an aromatic herb and flower garden, Shankha Spa in the adjacent Hyatt Regency Bali offers pampering treatments inspired by Balinese healing traditions using indigenous ingredients such as sea salt, pearl powder, coconut oil and spices.
8. Iberia announces a new route to the Maldives
Spain’s flag carrier Iberia is striding confidently towards the recovery of air travel, and has announced an ambitious summer program, resuming flights to many past destinations and adding capacity on its busiest routes as restrictions are lifted. The airline also announced a brand new route to the Maldives. This is a departure from traditional Iberia policy, as a point-to-point long-haul flight exclusively for holidaymakers. Iberia’s Executive Chairman Javier Sánchez-Prieto said: “The announcement of the new Maldives route is expected to raise company morale, and is viewed both as good news for the travel business and as an example of how Iberia is adapting to the new circumstances, and opening new markets.” From July 2nd until August 30th, the Spanish airline will make two weekly flights to the islands’ capital, Malé, departing from Madrid on Mondays and Fridays, and returning on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Both outgoing and incoming flights are timed for easy connections in Madrid to other Iberia destinations in Spain and the rest of Europe. Iberia will use Airbus A330/200s on the route, with capacity for a total of 288 passengers, 19 in Business (read my review here) and 269 in Economy.
9. Alaska Airlines officially joins oneworld
Marking a milestone in its 89-year history, Alaska Airlines became the 14th full member of the global alliance, just eight months after receiving a formal invitation from oneworld in July 2020. “Joining oneworld is joining a family of the best airlines in the world,” said Ben Minicucci, Alaska’s CEO. “Being a part of the alliance allows us to provide fantastic global connectivity, a seamless travel experience and more valuable loyalty offerings for our guests. This alliance transforms Alaska into a truly global airline, connecting our strong West Coast network and destinations across North America with the worldwide reach of our oneworld partners.” For Alaska and its passengers, oneworld provides a global network of flights to as many as 1,000 destinations across more than 170 countries and territories*. With its membership in the alliance, Alaska will add seven new airline partners and enhance its six existing partnerships with oneworld members. All Alaska Mileage Plan members can earn miles when they fly any of the other 13 member airlines. Mileage redemption for flights on airlines that Alaska did not have previous partnerships with will occur in the coming months.
10. Regent Seven Seas Cruises announces its return to sail
Regent Seven Seas Cruises – the world’s leading luxury cruise line – announced its return to sailing with Seven Seas Splendor cruising from the UK beginning September 2021. The voyage will mark the cruise line’s return to service, as well as Seven Seas Splendor’s inaugural season, with the ship having only completed two cruises with guests after being christened in February 2020. The first cruise in her inaugural season has Seven Seas Splendor scheduled to set sail September 11, 2021 for an 11-night voyage, round-trip from Southampton, England visiting Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland. After her initial voyage, the ship will transition to explore the beautiful Mediterranean before crossing the Atlantic to sail in the Caribbean. While many of her sailings are already sold out, there are still opportunities to cruise later in Seven Seas Splendor’s European season, and in the Caribbean early 2022. By visiting RSSC.com/HealthSafetyProtocols, guests can see an overview of current requirements to sail – such as all guests and crew being fully vaccinated at least two weeks prior to departure and having universal testing – all which the cruise line believes will provide a uniquely safe and healthy vacation experience.