The Grand Hotel in Kosovo: World’s Worst?

The New York Times: “The Grand Hotel in the Kosovar capital of Pristina is regularly reviled in internet reviews. Here’s a sample: ‘disgusting,’ ‘a ruin’ and ‘an absolute horror. Probably the worst I have ever been at.’ But the managers seem unfazed by the online abuse. They do not take web bookings and barely offer access to the internet; their hotel has no email account … even Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, usually an eager booster of everything his country has to offer, struggles to find anything nice to say about it … ‘I don’t think it is the worst hotel in the world, but that is because the world is very big,’ the president said.”

“With 13 stories and three adjoining concrete blocks in a prime location, the hotel accommodates flocks of pigeons on the upper floors and has rented out its basement, once used as a prison by Serbian paramilitary thugs, to a health club. But it is otherwise deserted, a maze of dimly lit corridors that are littered with pigeon feathers, strung with cobwebs, lined with doors of dark wood and haunted by even darker memories of Kosovo’s past. Two floors have been reduced to rubble, the remnants of a remodeling program that ran out of money.”

Service is minimal to nonexistent, the marble lobby stinks of cigarette smoke and the green carpeting that covers most of the floors is stained and scarred. And then there are the cockroaches … The president, who has only bad memories of the hotel in the past and despairs at its current condition, harbors big plans for its future. ‘Perhaps we could build a Trump Tower there,’ Mr. Thaci suggested.”

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Airplane Economics: Nickels & Dimes

The Wall Street Journal: “Profit per passenger at the seven largest U.S. airlines averaged $19.65 over the past four years—record-setting profitable years for airlines. In 2017, it stood at $17.75, based on airline earnings reports. In truth, airlines now cover their costs with tickets and get their profits from baggage fees, seat fees, reservation-change fees and just about all the other nickel-and-diming that aggravates customers. You might also call those extra 12 to 15 passengers now crammed onto each flight ‘Andrew Jackson’ for the profit they bring.”

“Given the $20-per-passenger haul ($40 round-trip), it’s easy to see why airlines are so intent on cramming in more seats, even when they know travelers hate the lack of space and complain bitterly about shrunken bathrooms, slim seat padding and skinny rows … Low-fare passengers shoehorned into the back of the plane may not even be covering what it costs to transport them. But they scored a low fare because the airline was concerned it might not fill all the seats on a particular flight, and some fare is better than no fare.”

“Among the big U.S. airlines, Southwest had the largest net profit margin last year, at 16.5%. Southwest continues to defy conventional airline wisdom. It doesn’t charge baggage fees; instead, it believes it attracts more passengers to each flight because many want to avoid the baggage fees charged by competitors.”

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Adidas Kicks are a Ticket to Ride

City Lab: “Starting January 16, Berlin transit authority BVG will release its own limited edition line of sneakers, a project that’s the first of its kind anywhere in the world. A collaboration with Adidas Originals, the sneakers’ tie-in with the subway will be immediately apparent to any Berliner: the heel counters feature the unmistakable seat upholstery pattern featured on the city’s public transit fleet.”

“The sneaker’s tongue will include a feature that’s arguably more striking—a fabric version of the annual BVG season ticket. That means the wearer gets free travel on subways, trams, buses, and ferries anywhere within Berlin public transit zones A and B— which cover almost all of the city—from January 31st to the end of the year.”

“Then there’s the price, which is a snip at €180 ($215) a pair. That makes them more expensive than the average sneaker, but much cheaper than a traditional annual transit pass, currently €728 ($869) for the same zones.”

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Moxy Times Square: Cool & Cheap

The New York Times: “Moxy Times Square is a cool 612-room hotel that opened in September — and you can stay there from just $99 (£73) a night. The hotel offers guest rooms and coworking spaces designed by international design firm Yabu Pushelberg, as well as Magic Hour, which it says is the city’s largest indoor-outdoor hotel rooftop.”

“Room rates start at $139 (£103) a night for a standard double, but the hotel also has 19 $99 ‘Crashpad’ rooms on offer ‘meant for customers who order one too many drinks or don’t want the night to end,’ bookable only through Magic Hour.”

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The New World of Airfares

The New York Times: “In the new world of airfares, similar-sounding fare classes like ‘economy’ and ‘basic economy’ can mask big differences in the level of service being offered. Complicating matters further, booking websites often do a poor job of explaining what travelers are actually getting for the listed price.” Travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt comments: “You need a supercomputer sometimes to figure out what you are getting and what you are not getting. Just to add confusion to the mix, obviously not every airline’s lowest fare includes or excludes the same things.”

For example: “With a basic economy ticket on American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, travelers can’t select a seat in advance. But on Delta, basic economy passengers are still permitted to use the overhead bins if there is available space. On American and United, those overhead compartments are off limits to those who purchase the lowest fares — unless the passenger is an elite member of the airlines’ reward programs.”

“As the airlines continue to further unbundle their fares, Mr. Harteveldt said, customers may have to change the way they consider ticket purchases. ‘It helps to think about shifting your minds from buying fares to buying products,’ he said … He suggested that leisure travelers consider more than just the official price tag. Booking a ticket or flying an airline that prevents you from selecting a seat in advance, for example, can mean getting separated from your family on the plane.”
As Mr. Harteveldt puts it: “The last thing you want to do is have your vacation ruined.”

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Delta CEO: Technology Builds Relationships

Business Insider: “Some airlines see technology as a potential money maker by turning their planes into flying e-commerce platforms with hundreds of captive customers. Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian said he isn’t interested in going down that route. Instead, he wants technology to help his airline better understand and interact with its customers. In turn, improving the flying experience and strengthening Delta’s core business.”

He explains: “We are in the business of building relationships and our technology allows us to build intimate relationships with 180 million customers a year and you can only do that through technology.”

“Bastian’s big tech goal in 2018 is what he calls ‘building a single view of the customer.’ That means unifying all of Delta’s various customer databases to create a more holistic view of and a better understanding of the people who fly with the airline.” He comments: “The real opportunity for us is to get a better view of who you are so that we can better serve you. We can get you what you need before you even realize you need it and be able to better take care of your needs not just from a sales standpoint, but more importantly, from an experience standpoint.”

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Eaton Workshop: On The Left Past Trump Hotel

Quartz: “Eaton Workshop in DC is billed as the world’s first politically motivated hotel, the flagship location for a brand built on the premise of liberal activism and civic engagement. With another hotel set to open in Hong Kong in 2018 and construction in San Francisco and Seattle scheduled for 2019, the chain is making the bet that a partisan mission does not preclude doing strong business.”

“Visitors will be greeted with video montages of the 2012 and 2016 US presidential elections when they walk in the lobby. Hotel programming will include a lecture series centered around liberal themes. The co-working space will prioritize memberships for progressive startups and activists. Even the minibar will contain an “activist toolkit” that includes information on how to call your representatives in Congress.”

“Katherine Lo, founder of the brand, says she isn’t worried about alienating potential guests … Lo hopes the brand will be able to operate like a ‘nonprofit, but better,’ eventually using revenue to fund local arts initiatives. There are plans for a writer’s residency program to support investigative journalists and a multimedia activism-themed arts program.”

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Terminal C: This Restaurant is Classified

The Wall Street Journal: “You’re a top-dollar flier. Would you fly an airline more if it secreted you into a speakeasy-like restaurant hidden in a back corner of the airport—and handed you the bill? United Airlines is betting you might. United and airport concessionaire OTG Experience have opened an invitation-only restaurant inside Newark Liberty International. To pump up the air of exclusivity, there are no signs for Classified: It’s behind an unmarked blue door in the back of another restaurant in Terminal C.”

“Classified can entice premium passengers to fly out of Newark rather than Kennedy or LaGuardia, says Praveen Sharma, United’s vice president of loyalty, merchandising and digital channels … The airline won’t say how it decides which customers get invitations. It’s not all about frequent-flier status or fare paid. Long layovers may increase your chances. CEOs and celebrities get invites. United officials can walk-in VIPs or even angry customers left stranded by flight problems … Try as it might to be swank, Classified remains an airport restaurant. The knives are plastic, per TSA regulations … Comments are mixed on frequent-flier forums like FlyerTalk. Some road warriors like it. Others find the food overpriced and the seemingly random invitations annoying.”

“United isn’t the only U.S. airline trying to make downtime at the airport more memorable. American now has Flagship First white-tablecloth restaurants open only to people who buy first-class tickets for international or New York-Los Angeles and New York-San Francisco flights.” Kurt Stache, American’s senior vice president for marketing, loyalty and sales, comments: “It’s for that small, small percentage of customers that generates a disproportionate amount of revenue.”

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