Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Rail

Strikes to Disrupt French Rail and Air Traffic on Tuesday

14 hours ago

Train and air services throughout France will be disrupted on Tuesday by a nationwide strike against pension reforms, French authorities said on Sunday.  

French rail operator SNCF said that it would operate only about half of its usual number of high-speed, domestic trains while one out of four trains on the Eurostar line to London would not operate. France’s civil aviation authority also said it expected delays and disruptions to hit airports although it would activate minimum services guarantees. The agency asked airlines to reduce flights out of Paris’ Orly Airport by 20 percent on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s nationwide strike is the third since the French government unveiled plans in January to raise the pension age by two years to 64. More than 1.2 million people took part in protests around France during the second round of strikes on January 31.

A high-speed train in France
Strikes are expected to disrupt French trains on Tuesday, February 7

Hotels

Hilton Launches Music Concerts Starting With Brandi Carlile to Highlight Connected Rooms

17 hours ago

A smart new campaign launched by Hilton, highlighting its connected rooms feature, for travelers looking for larger spaces when booking family or group travel. First in this “Connecting Room Concerts” series, a performance from Brandi Carlile, six-time Grammy-Awards winner – and nominated seven times for tonight’s 2023 Grammys Awards – from a pair of connected rooms at The Beverly Hilton.

Hilton has been a long-time sponsor of the premier music awards, in its 35th year now, with Hilton Honors loyalty program members who get special benefits at the awards.

Airlines

The Biggest Missing Ingredient for True Accessibility in the Airline Business

21 hours ago

A great talk by Michael Swiatek, the chief strategy and planning officer at Avianca, who happens to be legally blind.

Michael has worked in the airline industry for almost 30 years and spends part of his time raising awareness about the importance of accessibility in travel.

He travels frequently for work and believes that the lack of attention paid to accessibility is the main reason travel can be such a hurdle for many people and this presentation calls for why awareness is the biggest hurdle to overcome for true inclusion of travelers of all types. Worth a watch, below.

From IATA’s World Passenger Symposium in Manama, Bahrain last year in November:

Travel Technology

Travel Tech at JetBlue, Avis, Hilton and Avianca Still Seems Archaic

1 day ago

There’s been well-deserved excitement in travel tech circles in recent years about everything from the New Distribution Capability to chatbots and the arrival of generative AI, but the reality is that much of what passes for travel technology is still backwards these days.

An elevator at the Phoenix Airport car rental center on January 10, 2020. Source: Flickr.com/Tony Webster

Here are a few recent examples:

Avis: Rental Counter Can Be Unavoidable

Avis informed me a few days ago that I couldn’t modify an upcoming reservation at Newark Airport to add electronic toll charges because I made the reservation using points. In a chat, the Avis agent assured me I could add E-ZPass at the counter — although there are often elongated wait times there.

In November at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, as an Avis Preferred member, I was supposed to be able to view the app and go directly to the parking lot to retrieve my rental car, but that didn’t happen. Eventually, an Avis agent at the car rental counter told me I hadn’t been able to go directly to the car in the parking garage because I arrived during an employee shift change, and the cars were not in place and ready. The wait for the cars was at least 45 minutes at the rental counter.

JetBlue Ticket Modifications: You Need to Cancel and Rebook

In early January, I tried to modify a JetBlue flight booking at JetBlue.com, but wasn’t able to. During a text chat, JetBlue told me in what I think was an automated answer that since I booked the flight with points, I’d have to cancel and rebook it to make the change. “TrueBlue point bookings are managed online,” JetBlue stated. “Changes require you to cancel and rebook. Points are returned to the TrueBlue account. Bags/seats are refunded to the original payment.”

If I had booked the original flights with dollars instead of TrueBlue points, I probably would have been able to easily modify the booking online. But don’t airlines want their customers to join their loyalty programs, and redeem those points? Instead, there is a disincentive when points functionality lags.

Avianca Blames the ‘System’ on Multi-City Booking Issue

About a week ago, I wanted to book a multi-city itinerary on Avianca.com, but there was no option to do so. I was looking to book Punta Cana-Cartagena-Medellin-Punta Cana. I complained on Twitter in frustration, and Avianca kindly messaged me within minutes of my tweet that its customer service agents would reach out, which they did. But after a back and forth with one of the agents over a couple of days, he informed me that the Avianca “system” wouldn’t allow him to make the multi-city booking, either. The agent said I should try booking the tickets separately.

I did book the flights separately — but with another airline. 

Can’t Bypass the Front Desk at a Hilton Property

In November, I reserved a room for a few nights at a Hilton Garden Inn in New Jersey. A Hilton email informed me I could use the Hilton Honors app for a contactless arrival. The idea was to skip the front desk, head to my assigned room, and unlock the door with my phone.

When I arrived at the property, a very nice front desk employee informed me that for security purposes I would have to show her an ID so it turns out at this particular property, at least, there would be no bypassing the front desk. She then handed me a couple of card keys for my room door.

Moral of the Story?

Despite all the boasts from airlines, hotels, and car rental companies about seamless this or frictionless that, the reality is often more traditional and clunky. The travel industry still finds itself plagued by outdated, legacy technology or more modern applications that sometimes aren’t well thought out.

Hotels

U.S. Hotels Added 15,000 Workers in January

3 days ago

The U.S. leisure and hospitality sector in January continued to make strides in recovering from the pandemic disruption, according to a robust U.S. labor market report on Friday.

U.S. employers added 517,000 workers to payrolls in January, the Labor Department said. About 15,000 of those jobs were in travel accommodation, while 99,000 were at restaurants and bars.

Despite hikes in inflation and interest rates and a spate of tech-sector layoffs, job growth in the travel lodging sector remained strong. The month’s performance of 15,000 jobs was better than the 10,000 hotel jobs added in December, as Skift reported.

Yet the travel accommodation sector still has a hill to climb to regain its pre-pandemic employment levels. In January 2023, about 1,618,000 workers were employed in travel accommodations (hotels, motels, casino resorts, and bed and breakfasts). The comparable figure for travel accommodation in January 2019 was 1,945,500, or about 17 percent higher.

“Today’s jobs report—in which 25 percent of all new jobs were added in the leisure and hospitality sector—is further evidence that travel is essential to the U.S. economy,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman.

The leisure and hospitality sector has nearly 2 million open jobs, the association estimated. Tighter rules on immigration and temporary work visas in recent years have helped to constrain the labor supply.

Travel Booking

Pandemic Didn’t Change How Marketers Target Pre-Trip Planning: Tripadvisor Survey

3 days ago

Travelers make multiple purchases in preparation for their trip, a consideration Tripadvisor believes should be noticed by marketers. The company honed in on the purchasing intent of its audience and found that despite rising prices, plans to travel is on par with 2019 levels.

Tripadvisor’s latest research report, with some 5,000 respondents across six countries, indicates purchasing behavior of travelers and its influence across industries is being overlooked.

It’s one thing that the pandemic did not disrupt in travel.

The intent when planning a trip is broader than flights, accommodations, and activities, according Tripadvisor.

“Part of the fun for travelers is the planning (and spending!) before a trip. Consumers find travel is a great excuse to buy new clothes, special toys, or just the right gear.”

Of those surveyed, the most bought item in preparation for a trip is clothes (89 percent), followed by luggage (72 percent), and electronics (62 percent). Tripadvisor stated these are “not one-off purchases, with respondents (luggage being an exception) buying these items at least 2-3 times in the past three years before traveling.”

And while three-quarters of those surveyed do plan to reduce discretionary spending, cuts to travel plans are a no-go “with saving for future vacations the top priority.”

Airlines

London Heathrow Airport CEO to Depart After 9 Years

4 days ago

The CEO of London’s Heathrow Airport, John Holland-Kaye, will step down from his post later this year the airport announced Thursday. His departure comes after nine years at the helm of the UK’s busiest airport.

Heathrow Terminal 5 interior
The Terminal 5 departures area at London’s Heathrow Airport. (Skift)

Holland-Kaye’s departure comes after a chaotic rebound in travel from the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, Heathrow was forced to implement flight caps during the peak summer travel season that were largely attributed to understaffing. While the situation eased in the fall, blame was largely placed on the airport for not hiring enough in advance of what many forecast to be a robust summer season.

However, prior to the Covid pandemic, Holland-Kaye is credited with successfully navigating Heathrow’s long-term expansion plan through various political and legal challenges to approval. The $17 billion (£14 billion) plan includes a third runway, as well as terminal and other facility expansions. And, while approved before the crisis, most airports have found it necessary to move forward with pre-pandemic expansion plans amid the robust return of travelers.

Holland-Kaye will stay on as CEO of Heathrow until a successor is appointed, the airport said.

Tourism

International Travel Volume to U.S. Rose 61 Percent to Over 4 Million in November

5 days ago

The number of international visitors to the U.S. reached 4.6 million in November, up 61 percent year over year, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office. November’s volume represented 76 percent of pre-pandemic November 2019’s.

Last month, the National Travel and Tourism Office reported international visitor spending rose 57 percent year over year to $15.9 billion in November. From January to November, international visitors to the U.S. spent more than $146 billion, up more than 103 year over year.

U.S. Canada, Mexico, the UK, Brazil and Germany were the largest contributors in terms of international visitors for November. Those countries made up 69 percent of total international volume for the month. Among the U.S.’s top markets, Colombia, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic were the only countries to experience a drop in their inbound volume to the U.S.

In November, total Americans traveling abroad reached 6.7 million, up 41 percent year over year and represents 92 percent of pre-pandemic November 2019. From January to November 2022, American trips abroad totaled 73 million, up 69 percent year over year. Americans traveling abroad spent more than $15.2 billion in November, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office.

Europe continues to be a strong destination for American travelers. The number of American trips to Europe in November rose 89 percent year over year. Europe received over 14.6 million visitors throughout the first eleven months of 2022, making it the second largest market for outbound U.S. travel in that period. 

Business Travel

Convene Buys UK Conference Provider Etc.venues for Reported $250 Million

5 days ago

U.S.-based meeting, event and office provider Convene has bought etc.venues, which now expands its footprint in the UK.

Convene said the deal, announced on Wednesday, makes it the “largest provider of premium meeting and event venues in the U.S. and UK.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but according to reports is worth $246 million.

The combined entity will now offer 38 locations across the two countries.

“Over the next few months, we will begin taking steps to fully integrate our operations but, for now, things will continue ‘business as usual’ for our clients with no immediate changes to existing events, programming, packages, pricing, nor operations – besides, of course, the fact that we are delighted to have nearly 40 venues available for bookings across the U.S. and UK,” the company said in the statement.

Meanwhile, events and hospitality technology provider Cvent is reportedly looking into selling, with the company valued at more than $4 billion according to reports.

Hotels

Indian Hotels Company Enjoyed Another Record Quarter

5 days ago

Indian Hotels Company (IHCL) plans to reach a portfolio of 300 hotels by 2025, it said on Tuesday when reporting its earnings.

“We are looking to open 18 hotels a year,” said CEO and managing director Puneet Chhatwal. He cited plans to grow through conversions and new construction across India and in West Asia and Europe. The company plans to invest about $60 million a year for the next few years specifically for hotel development.

India’s largest hotel operator — with brands such as Taj and Ginger — had its highest-ever net profit in the quarter that ended on December 31. The Tata Group-backed company reported consolidated net profit of $46.8 million (3.83 billion rupees) on revenue of about $206 million (16.86 billion rupees).

“We are very pleased to report our Q3 [third quarter] results with a record level on all key parameters, revenue, EBITDA, EBITDA margin, PAT, strong free cash flows and being net cash positive,” Chhatwal said.

The strong performance followed hard on a previous quarter that was also a company record thanks to a surge in post-pandemic travel. Hotel occupancy was up 27 percent on average from pre-crisis levels, while average room rates were up by 27 percent compared with 2019 levels.

“With the month of January gone by almost tonight, we see the momentum continuing,” Chhatwal said. “We have a fair idea and depth of the business on the books and the pick up the way it is coming. The outlook is very strong.”

For more context on CEO Puneet Chhatwal, read Taj Hotels CEO on the Sweeping Strategy Behind Delivering Best-Ever Financials.