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Once a Hotel Suite, Now an Office Space

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Like many hotels pummeled by the pandemic, the InterContinental Times Square is trying to hang on.

After tourists stopped arriving this spring, the 607-room property transformed into housing for doctors and nurses treating coronavirus patients. When they checked out, the high-rise began offering blocks of rooms as office space. And with its reopening this month, the InterContinental will again play office landlord, this time on a suite-by-suite basis.

“We’re trying to be creative,” said Gul Turkmenoglu, the general manager, “and hope our ideas take off.”

Across the country, as the hospitality industry grapples with a severe downturn, hotels have been trying to reinvent themselves — as schools, emergency housing, wedding halls or homeless shelters — even as the new uses may come up short on revenue.

There are signs of financial distress. In New York, 44 hotel loans backed by bonds totaling $1.2 billion are delinquent, according to September data from Trepp, an analytics firm. In second place was Houston, with 39 delinquent loans at $682 million, followed by Chicago with 29 at $990 million.

Though a foreclosure would not necessarily cause a hotel to close, many analysts do not expect the industry to fully recover till 2023.

“Generally speaking, every hotel in America has lost 20 to 35 percent of its value in the last six months,” said Keith Thompson, a principal of the hospitality group at the brokerage firm Avison Young, which is starting to list distressed hotels at steep discounts.

Government efforts to house people in need have picked up some slack. New York, for instance, leased 11,000 rooms in hotels from April to July for medical workers who did not want to infect their families, as well as Covid-19 patients who could not isolate properly at home. One was a Hilton Garden Inn on West 37th Street, where three patients died in April after being discharged from hospitals.

This spring, New York also leased 63 of the city’s 700 hotels to house homeless residents, who are vulnerable to the coronavirus in open-layout shelters. The city pays $120 per room per night to those hotels, which received 9,500 people during the pandemic, most of whom are still there, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeless Services said.

Included are outposts of chains like DoubleTree and SpringHill Suites, but also Kixby, a 195-room boutique property on West 35th Street with a “mixology” bar in the lobby.

But the plan’s rollout hasn’t always been smooth. Some of the 300 men put up in the Lucerne, an Upper West Side hotel, took drugs and were rowdy, according to neighborhood residents. The city later relocated the group.

Miami took a similar approach to coronavirus containment. Five hotels were designated as housing for doctors, the homeless and Covid-19 patients, for a total of more than 2,100 people from July to September, officials said.

State and county funds cover the rooms and meals, said Frank Rollason, the director of emergency management for Miami-Dade County. “We had to evict some people. A meth lab was set up in one room,” Mr. Rollason said. “But we have also saved lives by stopping a pyramid of people from being infected.”

Whether new residents wind up as troublemakers or not, hotels seem eager for a lifeline. About 100 have emailed Mr. Rollason about participating in the program, he said. Their interest seems understandable, as the number of tourists is sharply down.

But the state money can be a pittance compared with what came before. The Doral Inn and Suites, a 112-room property catering to business and leisure travelers near Miami’s airport, collects $35 a night for units that once traded at $250. A week ago, 73 rooms were taken.

Alex Nahabetian, the manager of the family-owned hotel, said he had been planning to renovate the property, which was built in the 1980s. But then the pandemic hit, and his lender pulled financing because hotels were at risk. That lender would also grant Mr. Nahabetian only a three-month forbearance on his mortgage payments, a grace period that expired in June.

“The program has been a major lifesaver,” he said. “Otherwise, we would be permanently closed.”

Hotels not selected for government relief are often converting rooms into offices, at a time when office buildings remain closed.

At London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills, a 226-unit property in West Hollywood, Calif., beds were removed to create work spaces more like boardrooms. About five have been rented each month since June for $5,000, a spokeswoman said.

But most properties seem to be betting that workers simply need a desk, and because most rooms already have one, the hotel doesn’t have to splurge on a makeover.

Employees of the Hotel Figueroa, a renovated Spanish Colonial landmark in downtown Los Angeles, generally reposition furniture only at a client’s request. The 268-room hotel, which housed medical workers in the pandemic, has leased 200 offices since June for $25,000, a spokeswoman said.

But office space is usually much cheaper than standard rooms. At the InterContinental Times Square, offices, which are leased by the day, are about 30 percent less than overnight stays, and rates for those overnight rooms are down more than half since last year, Ms. Turkmenoglu said.

Hotels are rethinking common areas, too. Last month, five families rented a conference room at a Courtyard by Marriott in suburban Elmhurst, Ill., so their first-grade students could comfortably engage in remote learning. Gym class was in the hotel’s pool.

Use of the room would normally be $600 a week; the families paid $350. That’s not insignificant when occupancy is a third of its normal rate, said Tania Gawel, the director of sales at the 140-room property.

“It’s been very slow,” Ms. Gawel said, “so it’s all about thinking outside of the box.”

Other hotels, like the Great Wolf Lodge resort in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, have set up remote-learning facilities to lure vacationers. And ballrooms that once hosted business conventions are now marketed for “micro-weddings” that are substitutes for larger parties that were canceled.

The backdrop to the survival efforts is gloomy. Nationwide, about three dozen hotels had closed for good as of last month, including in Austin, Texas; Denver; and Washington, according to STR, a hospitality analytics firm, though that number is expected to skyrocket.

“For some properties, just keeping the lights on could cost $1 million a month,” said Jeffrey Davis, a broker with the commercial real estate firm JLL and co-head of its hospitality group. He added that debt service could add $5 million.

By late September, 188 of 700 hotels in New York had closed, and their status is unknown, according to the Hotel Association of New York City. Closures have included Omni Berkshire Place, Hilton Times Square and two Courtyard by Marriott hotels. Some may be purposefully staying dark to save on labor costs until the market improves, brokers said. But taxes are gobbling reserves in the meantime.

Most of San Francisco’s 215 hotels are temporarily closed, with some not planning to reopen until next year, said Kevin Carroll, the chief executive of the Hotel Council of San Francisco, a trade group. As in other cities, hotels there have filled empty rooms with essential workers, people needing to quarantine and those looking for alternatives to home offices. Evacuees from the region’s devastating fires have also taken up residence, Mr. Carroll said.

But turning over hotels to other uses, especially as homeless shelters, can hurt properties in the short run, Mr. Davis said. “You may be getting a good bang for your buck for your rooms, but the wear and tear in your hotel is something to be reckoned with.”

Some of the rebranding could become permanent. Already, Mr. Davis has seen buyers interested in converting struggling hotels to college dormitories or “micro-apartments.”

“That is something that’s totally new, that we haven’t seen in previous downturns,” Mr. Davis said. “And it’s probably one of the most interesting.”

By: C. J. Hughes
Title: Once a Hotel Suite, Now an Office Space
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/06/business/hotels-transformation-offices-shelters-coronavirus.html
Published Date: Tue, 06 Oct 2020 09:00:24 +0000

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Vacation

What could you order from Ansett Airlines’ inflight bar in the early 1970s?

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People have always liked to drink on board flights, especially people from Australia. Therefore, it should be no surprise to anyone that there was an inflight bar offering in the 1970s.

Ansett Airlines were a major player in the Australian domestic market up until their demise in September 2001. For many years, there were two domestic airlines, Trans-Australia Airlines (TAA) and Ansett.

Ansett’s Inflight Bar

At the time, Ansett operated Boeing 727s, Douglas DC-9s and Fokker F27 Friendships on domestic routes in the country. Airline tickets were quite expensive, with tariffs agreed upon by both airlines thanks to Australia’s weird two-airline policy at the time.

While tickets were expensive and food complimentary, you still had to pay for a drink at the bar. Here is an inflight bar menu from the era, showing the drinks available and their prices.

Clearly the pricing is astounding by today’s standards – 30 cents for a beer? I’ll have thirty-three please! I like how Australian gin is 35c while the imported gin is just 5c more. Which would you choose?

You can tell it is from another era as you can buy cigarettes on board. These price up at 45c, a far cry from the extortionate prices people in the west pay these days for a smoke!

Overall Thoughts

The on board offering is pretty comprehensive for internal flights, and I imagine you’d be hard pressed not to find something you might like. In those times, all payments would have been by cash as well, which would have meant a lot of coinage being handled on board.

Of course, things haven’t changed too much over the years. On many airlines you pay for your drinks just as they did back in the 1970s. Shame the prices aren’t the same of course!

Did you ever buy drinks on board flights from the inflight bar back in the day? Do you still? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by Daniel Tanner on Airliners.net via Wikimedia Commons.
Menu image by Ikara on Australian Frequent Flyer.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: What could you order from Ansett Airlines’ inflight bar in the early 1970s?
Sourced From: travelupdate.com/ansett-airlines-inflight-bar-menu/
Published Date: Thu, 19 Nov 2020 15:03:14 +0000

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These Shrimp Leave the Safety of Water and Walk on Land. But Why?

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The shrimp stop swimming at dusk and gather near the river’s edge. After sunset, they begin to climb out of the water. Then they march. All night long, the inch-long crustaceans parade along the rocks.

The parading shrimp of northeastern Thailand have inspired legends, dances and even a statue. (Locals also eat them.) During the rainy season, between late August and early October, tourists crowd the riverbanks with flashlights to watch the shrimp walk.

Watcharapong Hongjamrassilp first learned about the parading shrimp, and the hundred thousand or more tourists who come each year to see them, about 20 years ago. When he started studying biology, he returned to the topic. “I realized that we know nothing about this,” he said: What species are they? Why and how do they leave the safety of the water to walk upstream on dry land? Where are they going?

Mr. Hongjamrassilp, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, decided to answer those questions himself. His findings appeared this month in the Journal of Zoology.

Working with wildlife center staff members, Mr. Hongjamrassilp staked out nine sites along a river in Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani province. They found shrimp parading at two of the sites — a stretch of rapids, and a low dam.

The videos they recorded revealed that the shrimp paraded from sundown to sunup. They traveled up to 65 feet upstream. Some individual shrimp stayed out of the water for 10 minutes or more.

“I was so surprised,” Mr. Hongjamrassilp said, “because I never thought that a shrimp can walk that long.” Staying in the river’s splash zone may help them keep their gills wet, so they can keep taking in oxygen. He also observed that the shells of the shrimp seem to trap a little water around their gills, like a reverse dive helmet.

DNA analysis from captured shrimp showed that nearly all belonged to the species Macrobrachium dienbienphuense, part of a genus of shrimp that live mostly or fully in freshwater. Many Macrobrachiumspecies spend part of their lives migrating upstream to their preferred habitats.

Most parading shrimp that Mr. Hongjamrassilp captured were young. Observations and lab experiments showed that these shrimp probably leave the water when the flow becomes too strong for them. Larger adult shrimp can handle a stronger current without washing away, so they’re less likely to leave the water.

Walking on land is dangerous for the little shrimp, even under cover of darkness. Predators including frogs, snakes and large spiders lurk nearby, Mr. Hongjamrassilp says. “Literally, they wait to eat them along the river.”

And the shrimp can survive on land for only so long. If the parading crustaceans lose their way, they may dry out and die before they get back to the river. A few times, Mr. Hongjamrassilp came across groups of lost shrimp dead on the rocks, their once-translucent bodies baked pink.

Yet most navigate upstream successfully, and scientists have spotted other freshwater shrimp around the world performing similar feats, scaling dams and even climbing waterfalls.

Leaving the water when the swimming gets tough may have helped these animals spread to new habitats over their evolutionary history, Mr. Hongjamrassilp said. Today, the number of parading shrimp in Thailand seems to be declining. He thinks tourist activity may be a factor, and learning more about the shrimp might help protect them.

The study’s authors made “some really excellent observations,” said Alan Covich, an ecologist at the University of Georgia who was not involved in the research. But understanding why the Ubon Ratchathani shrimp move upstream, and how far they travel, will require more research, he said.

“The most surprising thing to me was that it attracted so many tourists,” Dr. Covich said. He doesn’t know of any other example of people gathering to appreciate a crustacean in quite the same way.

“We have crayfish festivals, we have all kinds of things,” Dr. Covich said, “but generally it’s people eating them, not watching them move.”

By: Elizabeth Preston
Title: These Shrimp Leave the Safety of Water and Walk on Land. But Why?
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/11/18/science/shrimp-parade-thailand.html
Published Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2020 17:02:07 +0000

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Will Aer Lingus launch transatlantic flights from Manchester?

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There are reports that Aer Lingus have applied for 1,500 slots at Manchester Airport for the Summer 2021 season. This will allow the airline to base four aircraft there and service flights to the United States.

At present, there have been no press releases from the airline stating what is going on. Even so, it probably makes sense for the Irish airline to do this in the current market.

Aer Lingus And Manchester

From what is known, there will be three Airbus A321LRs and an A330 based at Manchester. These will operate non-stop services to New York JFK, Boston, Chicago and Orlando, and the season starts on 28 March 2021.

With Thomas Cook having gone out of business, there is likely space for another competitor. New York and Orlando will see competition from Virgin Atlantic, while the other two routes have no airline flying at the moment.

Aer Lingus has been connecting passengers over Dublin very successfully from the UK regions for a while now. Due to this, they will have visibility on traffic patterns, potential yields and more, making this an informed decision.

I imagine they also hope to cream off some of the connecting traffic that routes through London Heathrow on British Airways and Amsterdam on KLM among others. It would prove to be quite successful.

Transatlantic Joint Venture Approval

The US Department of Transport has tentatively given its approval for Aer Lingus to join the oneworld transatlantic joint business. This is operated by American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia and Finnair.

These airlines coordinate schedules and pricing, share revenues and expenses. For the consumer, it means more choice – those making a booking on British Airways across the Atlantic will also see options on American Airlines on the BA web site as one example.



Theoretically, it would allow people seeking flights on the British Airways web site to automatically be given options to fly non-stop with Aer Lingus, along with the Manchester-London Heathrow-US city connecting itinerary.

Whether Aer Lingus will join the oneworld alliance, even in a oneworld connect capacity remains to be seen. Frequent flyers would welcome it, especially those in Ireland.

Overall Thoughts

No doubt the boffins have been working behind the scenes to see if the business case for transatlantic flights from Manchester stack up. As things have proceeded as far as a slot application, I would guess chances are good that it will go ahead.

Either way, let’s see if this happens and if it does, whether Aer Lingus will stay for the long haul. If they can make more money elsewhere, they’ll up sticks and leave. Regardless, it is an interesting development in European aviation.

What do you think of Aer Lingus starting transatlantic services from Manchester? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by N509FZ via Wikimedia Commons.
Aer Lingus A321neo LR by Pitmanaaron via Wikimedia Commons.
Business class cabin via One Mile At A Time.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: Will Aer Lingus launch transatlantic flights from Manchester?
Sourced From: travelupdate.com/aer-lingus-manchester/
Published Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2020 18:03:48 +0000

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