Editorial Another year draws to a close and what a year it’s been. By far…
As winter draws nearer, tourism folk seem more concerned with the ongoing fallout from the collapse of Tour Operating giant Thomas Cook and the perceived potential impact that will have on next summer’s tourist numbers than the fast-approaching ski season. At the same time, other significant players in the world of travel have been grabbing the remnants of Thomas Cook and adding them quickly into their own portfolio.
Just as a by the by, most or almost all of the varying components of Thomas Cook were actually profitable. What sank it mainly was the debt that it had incurred whilst on the acquisition trail years ago. An example of this is the fact that the Thomas Cook Airline was scheduled to make a profit of 140m Euro in 2019! The operator’s airline slots in the UK were quickly sold to EasyJet and Jet2 who in turn have rapidly ramped up their Tour Operating offering for next summer to absorb some of the spare capacity now in the market. Indeed, EasyJet has accelerated the launch of as well as increasing the range of, its own new sizeable Tour Operating programme (500 beach destinations). Other long-standing Tour Operators like Olympic are also expanding into the space that is now available in selected markets. So in a nutshell, the message across Europe seems to be that the available Package Tour capacity that was once in Thomas Cooks possession, is being filled across the board by several major players. So far so good; but something seems to have been missing. In all the press and travel-related stories regarding the aforementioned purchases, expansions and launches, the word Bulgaria is missing.
The Canaries, Cyprus, Balearic Islands, Egypt, Malta et al, all get a mention along the way with a word about how they will not lose out as former Thomas Cook properties are re-contracted and replacement flights added to programmes; not Bulgaria.
The fact of the matter may be that other Tourist destinations are far more united and experienced in showing a united front with their respective governments, trade bodies and hotel owners all pulling in the same direction. A part of this also includes having an effective marketing plan devised and executed by experienced and knowledgeable people. That also costs money and we all know that the expression that one has to “speculate to accumulate” is not one that carries to well in this part of the world. Time will tell whether the Black Sea will ride this little storm or how quickly it will ride it; invariably it always “works out in the end”.
One of the many issues facing the hosts of any Football World Cup is how to accommodate the tens of thousands of visitors that descend on that country. The typical solution is to build more hotels which, after the event finishes, are left struggling for occupants. More hotels in a location means more supply of beds which then equates longer term to lower room rates as supply outstrips demand. This is great for future visitors but not for the hotel owners. The hosts of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar may have found a solution.
That solution comes in the form of two huge cruise ships that have been chartered and will act as floating hotels to provide 4000 cabins (rooms) for the duration of the event. That equates to having the capacity to provide roughly 8000 beds which would in the real world also compare to the accommodation stock in around 12 hotels.
The ships will be docked at the Doha Port and shuttle buses will ferry guests to the stadiums and fan zones etc. Our suspicion that the first question asked by any potential visitor to the cruise ships will be “do you serve beer?”
Intelligent or not?
British Airways is testing artificial intelligence and “wearable tech” for its Heathrow staff preparing for aircraft for departures.
Presently when an aircraft is being prepared for departure, ground staff manually check and note the details of 18 different activities that are required to be completed such as the cleaning of the interiors, unloading and reloading catering and luggage as well as refuelling. Any one of these has the potential to delay a takeoff.
The Artificial Intelligence comes in the form of cameras set around the aircraft stand (parking bay), which provides live footage of what is going on. If the system then detects anything that may delay the aircraft’s takeoff, an alert is sent via a smartwatch to the ground crew tasked with preparing the aircraft.
One wonders if, with the many recent high profile tech-based troubles BA have had with its own systems, AI can replace the tech people who programme the software! The introduction of AI in aviation also raises the issue of whether in France, AI will be unionized and go on monthly strikes?
Wizz Air continue on the up and up with passenger numbers up 18% in the first half of the year, which, when added to profits of 371 m Euros, leaves the airline in a pretty healthy position. So much so that the airline has an order in place for 20 new Airbus A321 aircraft which will allow flights to further afield destinations. No mention is made yet though of what destinations these may include.
At the same time the CEO of Wizz, perhaps seizing the opportunity to jump on the aviation going green bandwagon, suggested that airlines should eliminate business class offerings on flights of less than 5 hours duration. That would of course, to some extent at least, homogenize short-haul aircraft travel and those with the lowest costs will win the battle. This comment stems from the nutty brigades public stated desire to ban air travel.
The Italian city of Venice seems to be permanently in the news these days what with boats crashing into its quayside and restrictions being placed on the hordes of tourists that frequent the popular tourist location. November saw it back in the news, but again for all the wrong reasons. Much of the city was flooded under 187 cm of floodwater which engulfed almost all of its famous landmarks such as Saint Marks Basilica and St Marks square. The highest floods in Venice’s history occurred in 1966 when floodwaters reached a height of 194 cms.
Acquire and grow
BA owners IAG (International Airline Group) are buying Madrid based airline Air Europa for 1 billion Euro’s. Air Europa has a fleet of 66 aircraft and launched in 1986.
The move is part of the IAG strategic plan to turn its Madrid airport hub into one that can rival Heathrow, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, with a particular emphasis on connectivity between Europe and South and Central America.
The airline will remain, for now anyway, a stand-alone entity.
Hyatt ditching single-use bottles
The “get green” crusade continues in the hotel industry with the Hyatt Hotels group being the latest major hotel chain aiming to say goodbye to single-use toiletries in their hotel rooms.
They plan to ditch small bottle items like shower gel, shampoo and conditioner by June 2021. Free water will however remain.
It’s probably reached the point now where hotels not following a similar agenda will begin to feel ostracized.
The battle for Vienna
Austrian Airlines and Vienna Airport have always been popular with locally-based travellers and in many respects, both are an important cog in the wheel of local commerce in that they have always provided connectivity to the rest of Europe. Austrian Airlines has had its wobbles in the past but its acquisition many years ago by Lufthansa seemed to have stabilized it both financially and operationally.
The times though are fluid and Austria has become a popular destination for Europe’s big Low-Cost Airlines and Vienna is their main gateway. Low-Cost Airlines are never afraid of a price war and that seems to be what is happening currently in Vienna. Much to the chagrin, of Austrian who are finding their profits been eroded away simply by trying to stay in the game.
Austrian in response have decided to base all their fleet at Vienna Airport to meet the new threat head-on, with operations from provincial airports in Austria being given to big sister Lufthansa. Additionally, Austrian also hope to trim 700 – 800 jobs; always a sure sign that all is not well.
Ski season optimism
The winter ski season is almost here and the good and the great on the Bulgarian Tourist scene were in Bansko recently to give a pre-season pep talk. It does seem that the start of each year is met with positivity despite the medias oft attempts to produce negativity.
The tourism year so far was hogged by the demise of Thomas Cook and the supposed catastrophic effect that would have on destinations dependent on tourism to pay the bills. Despite this and remembering that when any Tour Operator goes to the wall, regardless of its size, it’s not easy to plug the gap at the snap of the fingers. Despite all this, tourism numbers for the Bulgarian summer were down a mere 0.8% (supposedly) and that was compared with 2018 which was a record year.
The ski industry in Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo these days is not totally reliant on ski package tourists, as with the arrival of more and more so-called Low-Cost Airlines, the flexibility of shorter duration ski breaks as well as mid-week arrival/departures has created a whole new landscape. One which the ski resorts of Bulgaria seem to have grabbed with both hands. Visitors from countries where flights to Bulgaria operate from multiple locations seem set to grow impressively during the forthcoming winter. Passenger numbers from the UK are expected to grow by 17% and from Germany 7%. That, of course, does not mean that all future arrivals by plane are skiers; it does, however, provide a fighting chance that many will be. This coupled with the prediction that 60% of skiers in Bulgaria will come from neighbouring countries sets the stall well for winter.
The never-ending saga of the faulty Boeing 737 Max aircraft rumbles on with the latest prediction that it will be March 2020 at the earliest before the plane is allowed back in the skies.
That’s not good news for Boeing who were hoping they could get the problems with the plane fixed before the New Year.
What is happening with this plane and the massive negativity surrounding it leads to the question “would you feel comfortable letting your family fly on it?”. Once the plane is operational again we half suspect that a new question from people booking travel which is seldom asked at present will be “what type of plane is it?”.
As with all matters like this, people will eventually forget; that though may take longer than Boeing would like.
Don’t mess with the tutu
The world is full of nutters and we have regularly been reporting on the various types of animal that people try and pass off as “Emotional Support” animals. The prime reason one suspects are so that they can travel in the cabin with them as opposed to travelling in the hold of the plane. Our favourite is still the miniature horse. Another tale though caught our eyes recently at London Gatwick Airport.
A Norwegian Air flight from Gatwick bound for Austin, Texas was delayed when two French bulldogs dressed in Tutu’s became distressed: as rightly they would. The two animals were travelling as Emotional Support animals but the pilot noticed signs of distress in the animals so removed them and their owners (no doubt to a standing ovation).
The suggestion may be for their owners to wear Tutu’s the next time they fly or indeed ban them from flying all together for being so stupid in the first place.
Success or failure
Plovdiv is this year the European Capital of Culture, in case anyone didn’t know. So, in theory, we would reasonably expect a massive increase in the numbers of visitors to the city, especially foreign ones. However, the Ministry of Tourism somewhat strangely seems proud of the fact that visitor figures for Plovdiv are so far 6.5 % higher than the previous year; if the decimal point was moved to the right then perhaps people could pat each other on the back, but to have risen of a measly 6.5% is hardly something to boast about.
The reason why the numbers (to industry professionals anyway) seem low is perhaps because of the continued inability of Government to market the golden eggs it has in its possession. If the task of marketing Plovdiv was handed to an international company with proven experience in this field, the numbers would read very differently. The problem is, such a company would not be Bulgarian, so it’s not going to happen.
This year will not be a disaster for Plovdiv but it could have been so much better.