In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Cheap fares as airlines hit turbulence
A key airline industry group forecasts global profits will plummet by more than half this year due to high oil prices and the ongoing eurozone crisis.
A similar scenario unfolded during the global financial crisis and forced European and US airlines to dramatically discount fares to fill empty seats.
Transatlantic economy fares fell by an average of 34 per cent, while those to Europe dropped by 31 per cent during the height of the GFC in 2009.
International Air Transport Association (IATA) head Tony Tyler says European carriers will struggle most this year to maintain flights at capacity.
And some are likely to have little option but to offer more cheap seats, even if they are grounding aircraft.
“2012 is another challenging year. We expect revenues of $631 billion but a profit of just $3.0 billion,” Mr Tyler told the group’s annual general meeting in Beijing.
This compares with a 2011 profit of $7.9 billion, IATA figures show.
Mr Tyler cited high oil prices as one of the main reasons for “anaemic global profitability” – with the industry group expecting an average of $110 a barrel for the year – and warned volatile political situations could push up prices.
“The biggest and most immediate risk, however, is the crisis in the eurozone. If it evolves into a banking crisis we could face a continent-wide recession, dragging the rest of the world and our profits down,” he said.
In a statement released as the AGM began today, IATA heavily downgraded its outlook for European airlines in 2012, projecting losses of $1.1 billion compared with its previous forecast of $600 million losses.
“For European carriers, the business environment is deteriorating rapidly, resulting in sizable losses,” Mr Tyler said.
But he added that the global picture was “diverse”, with carriers in North and Latin America seeing improved prospects, compared with the negative picture for airlines in Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.
Europe’s major airlines include Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and Ryanair.
Walking tour of Helsinki’s architecture
It’s this year’s World Design Capital, and few cities can match the Finnish metropolis for the craftsmanship of its buildings. Justin McGuirk sets out on foot.
Earlier this month I paid my second visit to Helsinki. The first time I went it was winter and all I remember is dark, sludgy streets and ducking into bars to escape the cold. What a difference the summer makes. The light seemed inordinately bright, and with the long days I kept getting up from dinner feeling like it was mid-afternoon and time for a stroll. Helsinki is really two cities, each with its own season and its own rituals.
It happens that this year is Helsinki’s 200th anniversary as the capital of Finland – in 1812 its Russian rulers moved the capital from Turku. But that’s not why I was visiting. I was invited because Helsinki is the World Design Capital 2012. What does that mean exactly? It’s an honorary title celebrating places that use design as “a tool to improve social, cultural and economic life”. There have only been two before now – Turin in 2008 and Seoul in 2010 – but it feels like an honorific that was made for this city.
Design is to Helsinki as literature is to Dublin and samba is to Rio. It is simply a cultural manifestation of the national character, and Finns are sensible, detail-oriented people. Apart from the great Alvar Aalto, few Finnish designers or architects are widely known outside their own country. But to Finns themselves, designers such as Tapio Wirkkala and Ilmari Tapiovaara are household names. Their furniture from the 1940s and 1950s – once inexpensive, hard-wearing everyday items that now count as collectible classics – is still passed down from generation to generation.
Beyond simple, perfect objects, Finns have an innate sense of the role design can play in society. How many countries can you think of that make design a matter of government policy? Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, uses designers to address issues from sustainability to education. Let’s just say they take their design pretty seriously.
With a whole programme of World Design Capital events stretching through the summer and autumn, it’s a good time to go even if you couldn’t care less about design. And the beautiful thing about Helsinki is that this compact metropolis of 1.2 million people is made for walking. The municipality is protective of its human scale – you’ll find almost no building over eight storeys – and the gridded, pleasant streetscape makes it very difficult to get lost.
The character of this Baltic city is a slippery thing – at times you feel you’re in eastern Europe, with the trams and the flat-fronted buildings, and at others, especially near the water, you could only be in Scandinavia. But one thing that is utterly distinctive is the Jugend architecture, the Austrian-influenced art nouveau style that manifested itself here at the turn of the last century as a kind of fairy-tale urbanity. You’ll see buildings with heavy stone rustication as though they’ve been hewn from mountains, carved with decorative flourishes and the occasional gargoyle. Keep your eyes open and you’ll discover no end of curious detailing.
London hotels persist with Olympian price hikes
Hoteliers in London are persisting with sharp price rises during the Olympics, despite the fact that more than a third of rooms remain unsold.
Research by the hotel booking website Trivago.com has revealed that the average price of a hotel room in London during the Games (July 27-August 12) is currently £281 per night, although 36 per cent of rooms are still available.
For the week prior to the Olympics (July 19-26), the average cost of a hotel stay is £180 per night, and for the week after the event (August 13-20) it is £159.
The findings come after the London mayor’s office accused hoteliers of spoiling the city’s image as an affordable destination by increasing their rates. Kit Malthouse, the deputy mayor, warned that overpricing could cause long-term damage to visitor numbers, and cited the example of Atlanta, which witnessed a sharp fall in foreign arrivals after the 1996 Games.
Travel companies have also criticised hotels for putting off ordinary summer holidaymakers.
This week JacTravel, which provides wholesale accommodation for inbound tour operators, said its London bookings were down by 35 per cent during July and 30 per cent during August, compared with the same months last year. By contrast, it said that bookings for summer holidays to Barcelona and Berlin had grown by more than 100 per cent.
JacTravel found that some four-star London hotels were charging up to £415 per night for stays during the Games, nearly four times more than usual.
A second hotel booking website, Hotels.com, found that the average price for a room during the Olympics had fallen slightly by five per cent since March, to £202. However, this is still 93 per cent more expensive than the same period last year.
The hotel business needs a feminine touch
In the course of this article I am going to change gender. It will be difficult, painful and perhaps not entirely successful. But I have to try.
But first, I’m a man – a man checking into a hotel room. I’ll check the size of the place. Size matters to me. (I am, as I said, a man.) I’ll see what the view is like. I’ll wonder where I plug the laptop in. I’ll sit on the bed and check the headlines on the TV, and although I am a man and supposedly good at these things, it will take me 15 minutes to work the controls out. I might poke my head in the bathroom door to check there is a bathroom. Then I’ll probably head to the bar.
Now I’m going to re-enter as a woman. Mark becomes Marlene or Marilyn. First thought. It’s not very clean, is it? That heavy patterned bedspread. Yuck. Sheets don’t look that fresh. Horrible curtains – it’s so dark in here. Wardrobe. Cheap coathangers. No space. Toy iron, scratched ironing board.
Bathroom: bad own-brand toiletries, tinny hairdryer. Bathrobe: cheap towelling and huge. Maybe they have a lot of basketball players staying here. Lighting: makes me look even more rubbish than I feel after a seven-hour flight.
Check the TV – urgh. The remote is filthy. So are half the channels, those that aren’t news and sport. Maybe I’ll go to the bar. Yes – I really fancy a bowl of overcooked pasta smothered in runny sauce while three IT contractors dare each other to chat me up.
Now I’ve been through that operation I can sympathise with the men who run the world’s hotel companies. It’s really not easy putting yourself in those high-heeled shoes. They know female business travellers are vital to their future – according to the Hyatt Corporation they account for 37 per cent of revenues in the US. What’s more, anecdotal evidence – widely believed in the travel business – says that women drive the choice of hotel eight times out of 10.