International Travel News

Brits take to cruising
The number of Brits taking cruises this year increased by 5 per cent despite the downturn in the economy, according to the latest figures from the Passenger Shipping Association.

More than 1.5 million Brits took a cruise this year compared to last – and this trend is expected to continue next year with a projected 6.5 per cent increase to more than 1.6 million passengers.

The positive figures, released at this year’s Abta Travel Convention, which took place in Barcelona, prove the cruise sector appears to be bucking the worldwide industry trend.

A number of factors have led to this year’s growth in cruising, including P&O Cruises’ Ventura and Fred Olsen’s Balmoral both being in service for a full year. MSC and Costa Cruises also introduced new large ships and there has been investment in the ultra luxury sector with new ships from Yachts of Seabourn and Silversea.

Thomson, Island Cruises and Royal Caribbean have also shown strong growth as the popularity of fly-cruises continues. 

A number of new ships will enter the market next year, including the largest ship ever built, Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas.

Other ships include P&O’s Azura, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth and Celebrity Cruises Celebrity Eclipse.
US companies – keen to exploit a growth market – are repositioning ships to Europe.

These include RCI’s year-round service from Southampton with Independence of the Sea; and Holland America Line which for the first time is introducing full length cruises out of Dover.

UK gratuities laws changing
New laws in the UK have come into force making it illegal for bars, restaurants and hotels to use tips to make up employees minimum pay but experts in the industry believe individuals working in the industry would also be worse off through having to pay national insurance on more of their wages.

The government has claimed the change will promote “fairness” for staff, despite claims it will cost the hospitality industry an estimated £100 million and thousands of jobs.

The British Hospitality Association estimates that 5,000 jobs could go as a result but the UK Business Secretary Lord Mandelson says: “When I leave a tip, I don’t expect it to be used to make up the minimum wage. I want it to go to the person who has served me as a thank-you for their service – this is a basic issue of fairness. Tips are meant as a bonus, not a tool to boost pay to the basic minimum.”

A code of practice will be published aimed at providing “clarity” for customers and staff as well as businesses from tomorrow.

The switch has been welcomed by the union Unite, which had been campaigning on the issue, as a move towards greater transparency on how tips and gratuities are used by the hospitality sector.

UK hotels suffering in the recession
UK hotels suffered another bad month of falling rates, yields and occupancy in August of this year, though those who do stay in a hotel can get a bargain. In London, the room rate was down 7 per cent year-on-year to £102. Occupancy fell by 2.3 per cent to 81.8 per cent, according to a report by hotel consultancy services PKF.

However, a separate report by Deloitte predicts that there will be a slowdown in the rate of decline with a pick up in the last three months of next year.

The revised forecasts show that for hotels in London and across the UK, the worst falls in revenue are now in the past, however there could be falls in revenue before recovery takes place. Experts believe there will be a return to growth in the capital ahead of Q4 2010, while the rest of this year and the beginning of next year will be tough for hoteliers, especially with the VAT rate increasing to 17.5 per cent in January, which means margins are likely to be placed under further pressure.

London may well be less affected if the pound stay weak.

In the regions, occupancy rates are starting to creep back up. Edinburgh saw a 3 per cent increase in occupancy rates in August compared to last year, to 91 per cent. However, rates were down by 7 per cent. Leeds and Liverpool also saw their occupancy levels increase, by 3 per cent and 7.6 per cent respectively.

BA to introduce seating charges
This month British Airways is charging passengers up to £60 per one-way flight if they want to secure a specific seat before check-in.

The charge will operate from October 7 on all BA mainline operated flights, in all cabins, except first class.

The charges will not apply to passengers with fully flexible fares, BA corporate clients, Executive Club Premier, Gold and Silver members and Oneworld Alliance equivalents, families with small children and passengers travelling as part of a specialised group or with special needs. All of these categories will continue to be able to choose a seat at the time of booking.

The charges will be £10 per sector on domestic and in Euro Traveller (economy) class, £20 in Club Europe, World Traveller and World Traveller Plus and £60 in Club World.

Passengers can pay for seats from the time of booking up until 24 hours before departure. Seats will still be allocated free of charge at the time of check-in. Yet another reason to fly Virgin Atlantic.