The Business Travel Briefing For May 30 to June 13, 2019
The briefing in brief: Tourism and new hotels may save Greece's ailing economy. United moves to new digs at LaGuardia. Major changes on India routes. Hotel chains expanding into historic buildings. British Airways compounds its business class seat-selection rip-off with higher fees. American, Alaska Air drop some California flights. Anbang's luxury hotels for sale.

This won't shock you, but Greece is learning that its economic future is tied to tourism. As the nation grappled with unsupportable national debt, high unemployment and the EU-imposed austerity measures, the massive infrastructure investment made for the 2004 Olympics largely went to waste. Greece "has become an all-cash economy, it's still economically depressed," says Plato Ghinos, president of Pennsylvania-based Shaner Hotels. But Greece "is realizing the importance of tourism. There were 32 million tourists last year, more than to the entire Caribbean." The result? A "back-to-basics" focus on tourism as an economic bootstrap. Ghinos isn't just an observer, however. Shaner has opened two hotels in Greece in the last 30 days. The 60-room Academia of Athens opened yesterday as part of Marriott's Autograph Collection. It's a head-to-toe renovation of a long-abandoned tower, complete with indoor pool and rooftop restaurant with views of the Acropolis. "Athens hasn't had the investment it needs in the hotel section," Ghinos adds. Shaner last month opened a Marriott Moxy Hotel in Patra, Greece's second-largest port. The Bank of Greece funded the new-build property. Why the sudden investor interest? "If you believe you've reached bottom, it can only get better, right?" Ghinos explains.

The excruciatingly slow revamp of New York/LaGuardia--Remember when then vice president Joe Biden called it a third world airport?--reaches another milestone Sunday (June 2). That's when United shifts its operations to five new gates at the Terminal B Eastern Concourse. Also opening Sunday: a 10,500-square-foot United Club. Air Canada, United's code-share and Star Alliance partner, moved into the new terminal area late last year.
      Austin/Bergstrom has a new Delta Sky Club. The 9,000-square-foot facility near Gates 1 and 2 has an outdoor observation deck with misters (for summer heat) and heat lamps. There's also a large kitchen and a more-substantial-than-standard list of food and drink.
      Jacksonville, Florida, has a new common-use lounge. The Club, operated by the same company that manages Priority Pass, is a 3,000-square-foot operation located in Concourse A near Gate A1.
      Phoenix/Mesa in Arizona is now served by Uber. A deal last week between the ride-share giant and the airport operating authority includes a $2-a-head charge for access. Lyft agreed to similar terms in 2016.

India travel is never easy in the best of times and these are, well, unsettled times. On the positive side of the ledger, Virgin Atlantic, now a vassal of Delta Air Lines, is reviving the Mumbai flights it abandoned in January, 2015. The daily run from Virgin's London/LHR hub resumes on October 27 using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. Of course, this isn't a total victory since the flight essentially replaces service lost in April when Jet Airways collapsed. On the unalloyed negative side of the ledger, Star Alliance partners Air Canada and United Airlines are at least temporarily curtailing flights to Delhi. Air Canada has closed its Toronto route from June 15 to August 29. United, which was due to resume its Newark route starting July 3, has now pushed the resumption date back to August 1.
      British Airways is compounding its heinous, decade-old policy of charging for seat selection in Club World international business class. If you're not BA elite or paying full fare, you'll now pay more to avoid seats in the four-across center section. That's because choosing window or aisle "side" seats in the 2x4x2 configuration cost more than the center seats. The new policy began for tickets purchased after May 14. Fees are not insubstantial, either. On West Coast to London runs, "side" seats can cost as much as $250 each way atop the fare. And remember, BA is running this racket while operating its cramped, outdated, 20-year-old business class service.
      American Airlines says it will add flights from New York/JFK to Georgetown, Guyana. Daily flights using Boeing 737-800s begin December 18.
      Delta Air Lines is dropping its flights between New York/JFK and Rio de Janeiro. The seasonal route was due to resume in December.

In their ravenous desire to open hotels everywhere, lodging chains are leaving no stone--and no old buildings--unturned. The Beaux Arts Candler Building on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta is being converted into the 265-room Candler Hotel. It'll be aligned with the Hilton Curio Collection and is scheduled to open late in July. Meanwhile, the 90-year-old Pepper Building in downtown Winston-Salem has been refashioned into a 75-room Hotel Indigo. The six-story property even has a restaurant named after Winston Churchill, a throwback to a famed Winston-Salem dining room. Both projects have taken more than three years from conception to completion. Internationally, Hyatt has agreed to slap its Hyatt Centric brand on the 665-room Hotel Vic in the North Point district of Hong Kong Island. The conversion is due in the third quarter. And Hilton's revived LXR Hotels brand will include The Biltmore on Grosvenor Square in London. The property, closed a year ago, has previously traded under a variety of names. It opened as the Britannia, became an Inter-Continental and has been known as the Millennium since 1996. The property was supposed to reopen in the spring but that has slipped to September.

Remember Anbang Insurance, a ravenous Chinese conglomerate that gobbled up the Waldorf-Astoria in New York for $2 billion and bid against Marriott for Starwood Hotels? The company was taken over in 2018 by the Chinese government, which is dismantling it and dumping its collection of hotels. Among the 15 properties available: The Four Seasons Washington; InterContinental hotels in Chicago and Miami; the JW Marriott Essex House in New York; Ritz-Carlton properties in Half Moon Bay, California; and the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. Stay tuned.
      California flyers take note: American Airlines will drop flights between Los Angeles and Santa Rosa on November 2. Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines is dumping flights between John Wayne/Orange County and Mexico in August. Routes include thrice-weekly runs to Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta.
      JetBlue Airways next month switches to pouring Pepsi products during flights. (The switch will occur as the carrier's stock of Coca-Cola beverages run out.) The airline also will stop offering individual mini-bottles of water and passengers will be served from 1.5-liter bottles of Aquafina. That, of course, is a Pepsi brand.