In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Cruise ship staff ‘paid £1.30 an hour’
The cruise industry has defended its employment policies after an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches highlighted low wages and long working hours.
The programme’s producers arranged for an undercover reporter to spend five weeks working on board the cruise ship Celebrity Eclipse, operated by Celebrity Cruises.
Its investigation revealed that many members of staff receive less than half the UK national minimum wage (£6.19 an hour), with some of the lowest paid workers earning just $600 per month, the equivalent of around £1.30 an hour, and no gratuities.
Members of staff also claimed they are required to work seven days a week for months on end without rest days, while others allege that they were forced to pay expensive fees to recruitment agencies to obtain their job.
Over the five weeks, the reporter’s earnings averaged £2.24 per hour, and he was asked to work 16 hours a day. His earnings were less than he had been promised by the British recruitment agency that found him the job, and he was forced to pay £570 out of his own pocket for uniform, a compulsory medical and a visa.
The programme – which airs at 8pm tonight – also features experts who accuse the cruise industry of flying a “flag of convenience” by registering their ships in countries where employment laws are less stringent.
Celebrity Cruises’ American parent company, Royal Caribbean International, is incorporated in Liberia, while the vessel Celebrity Eclipse is registered in Malta, meaning neither British or US employment laws apply.
48 hours in Austin
In Austin, flip-flop-wearing University of Texas students mingle with coat-tie-and-boot-clad state lawmakers and technology workers in jeans.
The Lone Star State capital prides itself on its slacker vibe, but it’s also the place where a college student named Michael Dell once started a computer business and where Whole Foods Market started and has its headquarters.
This fall, Austin will attract Formula One fans from around the world, who will descend on the new Circuit of the Americas racetrack southeast of town for a November Grand Prix.
The city that calls itself the Live Music Capital of the World hosts blowouts like the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the South by Southwest music, film and interactive conferences.
But the ideal way to experience Austin, where the best weather is in the spring and fall, is just to hang out. Somewhere between the barbecue and the exhilaratingly chilly waters of Barton Springs, you’ll find bliss, even if you visit during a sizzling Texas summer.
5 p.m. – Check in to your hotel. You could stay in the heart of hip South Congress Avenue at the zen-like Hotel San Jose, or in East Austin at the Heywood Hotel, a modern boutique hotel. Downtown options include the W Hotel (a new bronze statue of Willie Nelson is just steps from the front door) or the historic Driskill Hotel, built in 1886.
Grab a drink at or near your hotel: sangria at San Jose’s poolside bar, or a cocktail at the W or Driskill bars. From the Heywood, grab a free loaner bike and ride to Hillside Farmacy, a recently restored 1950s pharmacy that offers afternoon tea and plates of cheese and marmalade.
7 p.m. – Enjoy dinner at Contigo, a restaurant inspired by a South Texas ranch. Sit at an outdoor picnic table under strings of lights and munch on crispy fried green beans and house-made sausages while sipping a beer or El Pepino (tequila, cucumber, mint, lime).
Hotel restaurants: five star food?
Is even the greatest hotel restaurant doomed to feel forever second best, or is the chance of an outstanding dinner slowly improving?
I can’t remember the last time I chose to eat in a hotel restaurant. Controlled by accountants, designed by committee, cravenly crowd-pleasing and a mere add-on to the main business, most can be placed on a sliding scale that starts at very bad and tops out at boring.
The feel of most hotels doesn’t help. The hustle, the bustle, the business suits in the bar, it all feels like a conveyor belt, a commercial terminus where food is but one route in and out. Surely what you want to feel in a restaurant is some personality, some sense that the place is individual, unique, a loved living entity. Which, in a five-star hotel, is mighty difficult to achieve.
Nico Ladenis came up with one solution when he moved to theGrosvenor House Hotel in 1992. He insisted on an unusual set-up. Hotel guests weren’t able to come down from their rooms and walk straight in to his restaurant. Instead, they had to go outside on to Park Lane and use the Chez Nico entrance like everyone else. In a way, this was typical of the man: Ladenis didn’t do compromise. He was notorious for chucking a wobbly if a guest asked for salt or had the temerity to order a second G&T. He even ordered customers to sit up straight.
By making sure his restaurant was physically separated from its hotel home he demonstrated the attitude that many people, chefs and diners, have to hotel restaurants. As Jeff Galvin, who worked at Chez Nico, recalls: “a fence went up around the restaurant,” and there was, he says, a kind of “bravado that you don’t really need hotel guests.”
With his brother Chris, Jeff Galvin now runs the Michelin-starredrestaurant at the Park Lane Hilton and has just opened La Pompadour at Edinburgh’s Caledonian. Galvin takes a very different view to Ladenis: he sees having hundreds of potential customers in the same building as a boon. The Galvins have direct control over how their restaurants look, and after agreeing food margins and labour costs with Hilton, they are left to it on everything from staffing to sourcing. Galvin has lived in Edinburgh for two months, not because Hilton demanded it, but because he wants the kitchen to shine.
The rooftop pool with a dizzying view of Nairobi
The rooftop pool at Nairobi’s newest high-rise hotel juts out over the edge so swimmers can peer through the glass bottom eight levels down. A new champagne bar sits nearby. iPads with detailed wine descriptions serve as menus.
This is the face of new, high-end hotels in Africa. Nairobi has seen the construction of several upscale properties in recent years, as developers eye an increase in business travel to a continent with rising business prospects.
International hotel developers are planning nearly 40,000 new rooms across Africa in the coming years.
Travel and tourism in Africa generates about $164 billion a year, 9 per cent of the continent’s total GDP, said David Scowsill, president and chief executive of World Travel & Tourism Council. He said tourism generates almost 19 million jobs in Africa, 7.1 per cent of all employment. And that business is expected to grow.
Africa’s middle class is expected to soon begin leisure travel en masse, and an international forum held in Nairobi last week was packed with hotel executives because of this fact alone: Africa’s middle class today numbers 300 million people but by 2050 will number 1 billion.
“Africa is the only region of the world where birth rates are above (population) replacement rates,” Ian Goldin, a professor at Oxford, told the forum. “Its population is the fastest growing of all the continents and it has the youngest labor force.”
But hotel owners beware: The continent is still a maze of business challenges. Slow land acquisition. Slow government approval. Slow construction.