ICYMI – This week in Travel News (29 April 2016)

In Case You Missed It: There is so much that happens in the travel industry every week and only a portion of it is reported in TravelLatte or other travel blogs. Each week, we aim to capture some of the highlights from the past week in Travel News. Please let us know you like it with a comment!

The end of Hurry Up & Wait?

Conde Nast Traveller reported this week that Singapore’s Changi Airport – the closest thing we have to the Airport of the Future – is testing new tech that may actually change the airport of the future. For the better.

Security officials at Changi reveal two new scanning technologies being tested at two gates; one scans your bags, the other scans you. Body scans have been a topic of debate, especially those that are “anatomically correct.” The system Changi is testing reduces you to nothing more than a stick figure, with highlights where foreign objects – like metal – are detected.

In Case You Missed It: Changi Airport via @TravelLatte.net

Singapore’s Changi is regularly voted one of the world’s best airports. (Photo: Changi Airport Group)

The bag scanning system is much more elaborate, and targets two of the biggest hurdles in keeping line time down: bins and laptops. The test system automates the bin system, so passengers won’t find themselves waiting for security to re-stock. The bins are also larger, so you don’t have to grab – and then empty – two or three of them. But the real innovation is in the scanner: instead of a flat 2D image, security offers will see a 3D representation of what’s in your bag: clothes, toiletries, goodies and gadgets, and even laptops. Which means you won’t have to take anything out of your carry-on anymore! (No word on how it handles your three ounces of mouthwash.)

The goal is to improve the airport experience and shorten wait times, without sacrificing safety. The new baggage scanners are thought to speed up the process by 20%. The tests are scheduled through the end of June, after which authorities will analyze the results. Until then, no timetables or future plans have been revealed.

Let’s Make a Deal, Part 2

It’s becoming routine: Another week, another story about a Chinese investor wanting to buy an American hotel company. Only this week – for a change – it does not involve Starwood or Anbang.

China’s HNA Tourism Group, a Fortune 500 company with multiple business lines in China, is buying Carlson Hotels for an undisclosed sum. The deal includes Carlson’s majority stake in Rezidor Hotel Group, but still needs regulatory approvals. The deal is expected to close in the second half of 2016.

HNA already has interests in several travel brands, including London-based International Currencty Exchange, which operates currency exchange booths in airports around the world. They own Swissport International, and is the largest shareholder in Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels, and Spain’s NH Hotel Group SA. The company runs Hainan Airlines, one of China’s largest regional carriers, and has a stake in low cost carrier Azul Brazilian Airlines (founded by Brazilian-born David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue).

Carlson’s brands include the Quorvus Collection, Radisson Blu, Radisson, Radisson RED, Park Plaza, Park Inn by Radisson, Country Inns & Suites By Carlson, brands and its loyalty program, Club Carlson. Rezidor Hotel Group is the company’s licensee for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Marriott and Starwood are two of the top ACSI performers in 2015, via @TravelLatte

(Photo: Marriott International)

Back to Marriott & Starwood

While the merger has been approved by shareholders, it’s still not a done deal until the Justice Department signs off. But that’s not keeping the companies from working things out. And nothing is getting more attention from guests than the loyalty programs.

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson says integration of the two companies’ programs is “very much a work in progress” and that it will most likely take at least two years for the two programs to be combined. However, Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards have recently introduced some new perks that might seem very familiar to members of the Starwood Preferred Guest program.

One of the most loved SPG perk, and you might think the easiest for Marriott to implement, is the guaranteed late checkout. Done. Starting May 16, Gold and Platinum Elite members of both Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards can request a late checkout; as late as 4pm, guaranteed, at all fully participating Marriott Rewards hotels except for resorts, convention hotels, and Marriott Vacation Clubs. Silver Elite members can request a late checkout, but no guarantees.

Another favorite is SPG Moments, allowing members to spend or bid points on unique experiences, including concerts and sporting events. Marriott’s version will be the Experiences Marketplace launching in late-May. Less well known is the SPG Ambassador program which allows members with 100+ nights in a single calendar year to have their own Ambassador; something like a concierge. Similarly, Marriott is launching an Elite concierge service with an invited group of Elite Marriott Rewards members. The concierge will be able to reserve on-property amenities like restaurants, spa treatments and golf, as well as make arrangements for special occasions, and will work with guests before, during, and even after their stay.

There is still a long way to go in the merger, and a lot of work to be done, but Sorenson has repeatedly said the SPG rewards program was an important part of Starwood’s assets, and that he expects to “create a hospitality loyalty program that values the best of both programs, and then some.” We can hardly wait!

Carnival Vista Sets Sail

Carnival Cruise Line’s newest ship, Vista sets sail May 1 on her maiden voyage. The 3,954-passenger ship will spend the summer sailing Europe before crossing the Atlantic in October. After a series of sailings from New York, Vista will begin year-round service in the Caribbean from Miami.

Carnival Vista offers a number of unique new features, including the first SkyRide, a suspended, open-air cycling experience, and the first IMAX Theatre at sea. Fans of craft beer will appreciate the RedFrog Pub and Brewery, offering three different beers brewed on board. The ship features the Carnival’s first outdoor seating options at several restaurants, including the New England-inspired Seafood Shack, making its line debut.

In Case You Missed It: Carnival Vista sets sail, via @TravelLatte.net

A Harbor Family suite aboard Carnival Vista (Photo: Carnival Cruise Line)

Families have a new home on board called Family Harbor, a dedicated family zone on deck 2. Nautical-themed deluxe ocean-view, balcony, and interior staterooms will accommodate for up to five family members. The exclusive Family Harbor Lounge, billed as the “ultimate family hang out” features large screen TVs, games, and complimentary breakfast and snacks. There is also a family concierge desk.

One of the cruise line’s more popular venues, the Havana Bar gets expanded on Carnival Vista, and worked into a full-fledged experience. In addition to a bar and restaurant, the Havana Pool is located in the ship’s stern, offering sea views from the pool and whirlpools. Colorful umbrellas, thatched patio huts, and faux palm trees round out the environment. Nearby are the new Havana Cabana staterooms, which feature suites with private patios, complete with lounge chairs and hammocks facing the Lanai promenade for more ocean scenery.

In Case You Missed It: Carnival Vista sets sail, via @TravelLatte.net

The all new Havana Cabana staterooms include private patios with hammocks. (Photo: Carnival Cruise Line)

The ship’s outdoor spaces include a WaterWorks aqua park, highlighted by the 455-foot-long Kaleid-o-slide, the longest slide in the fleet. Or you might prefer to relax in Carnival’s first infrared sauna and hamam, in the two-level Cloud 9 Spa. There’s also the adults-only SerenityTM Retreat featuring Carnival’s first outdoor massage huts.

With all of this on the ship, you may not want to get off!

And then this happened.

Asian airline Jetstar welcomed a bouncing baby boy this week. No, it’s not a new airline or yet another merger, but an actual human baby boy.

On a flight from Singapore to Yangon, Myanmar, a woman unexpectedly went into labor. Luckily for her, there were three doctors on board who, along with flight crew, delivered the baby. It was a first for both the airline and the mother, who has named her child Saw Jet Star in honor of the airline. As the namesake, the airline has contributed $1,000 Singapore worth of baby supplies.

Mother and son are have been discharged from a local hospital in Yangon, and are in good health.

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