The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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'Twas the Column Before Christmas ...
December 22, 2016 -- We've run out of time and columns for the year. So much news. So much snark. So little space. So few days.
So how 'bout we dispense with the setup and get to three or four items you really should know about. I promise by the end of these 1,100 words you'll want to run out and celebrate the holidays and not think another moment about life on the road.
HOTELS AND HOT POT
Our President-elect may or may not be serious about his "big, beautiful wall" on the U.S.-Mexico border, but, as with most things Trump, the facts are something else again. Latinos are no longer the fastest-growing minority group in the country. It's Asians.
The influx of Chinese, Koreans, Indians and others is creating a dazzling new collection of so-called Asiatowns around the country. And unlike Asian enclaves of the past, these new communities are self-contained: banks, markets, museums, office buildings, restaurants, newspapers and TV and radio stations, upmarket homes and condos and, yes, even hotels.
And guess what? Hotels located in these prosperous Asian neighborhoods often cost more than similar properties in downtown business districts or nearby communities.
Take New York City, for example, and Manhattan's vibrant Koreatown in the mid-30s around the Empire State Building. This weekend, the Hilton Garden Inn/West 35th Street, next door to the fabulous Cho Dang Gol, is charging $204 a night. Yet seven blocks away, at the Hilton Garden Inn/Manhattan-Chelsea, the rate this weekend is only $119 a night.
Similarly, in the rapidly growing Chinatown in Flushing, Queens, two miles from LaGuardia Airport, the Hyatt Place Flushing is located in a posh, new mall with 15 Asian restaurants and bars. This weekend, the rate is an eye-popping $309 a night. Yet back in Manhattan, the Hyatt Place/Midtown-South, only a few paces off Fifth Avenue, is asking just $139 a night.
This is not a strictly New York phenomenon, either. In the mostly Korean Asian enclave in the Atlanta suburb of Duluth, the awkwardly named Courtyard Atlanta Duluth/Gwinnett Place is quoting $99 a night this weekend. Yet eight miles up Interstate 85, at the Courtyard Atlanta Suwanee, the going rate is just $74 a night.
Same deal in the Midwest. An independent hotel called the Jaslin opened in May on West Cermak Road in the heart of Chicago's burgeoning Chinatown. The nightly rate this weekend, for a property that is very much in the Courtyard/Hyatt Place/Hampton Inn mold, is $237 a night. About a mile away, at the venerable Hyatt Regency at McCormick Place, this weekend's rate is just $140 a night.
The reason hotels in Asian communities often cost more? Cultural familiarity for Asian visitors. These marvelous new and self-sufficient neighborhoods have everything the Asian traveler wants--and the food is better, too, something to which I can attest thanks to my stays at some of these hotels.
Helen Lee, who opened the snazzy Leaf Bar atop the Hyatt Place in Flushing, recently explained it this way to The New Yorker magazine: "They could afford Park Avenue, but where would they go for hot pot?"
A brutal week of weather--snow in the Midwest and East over the weekend and rain in Los Angeles earlier this week--played havoc with airline operations. On-time performance plunged, cancellations spiked and lots of us business travelers--not to mention those annoying holiday flyers--were inconvenienced and vexed.
Know what? That's nothing compared to what's going on in Nigeria right now.
One of the country's short-haul carriers, Aero Contractors, shut down without notice on September 1 to clean up its dreadful maintenance and find new funding. The country's largest carrier, Arik Air, this week took a schedule-crushing strike, caused by the fact that the airline hasn't paid its staff in months. A shortage of jet fuel in the oil-rich nation created massive flight cancellations. International carriers have trouble repatriating their profits in the foreign-currency-challenged country and at least four--United, Emirates, Turkish and Kenyan--have dumped routes. Fares are skyrocketing. The Nigerian government announced this week that it would close the airport in the capital of Abuja in February for at least six weeks.
"What others consider chaos, we consider business as usual before the holidays," one rueful U.S. executive based in Lagos told me via E-mail. Besides, he said, things aren't that bad. "We haven't had a gasoline or diesel shortage in months."
ETIHAD'S END GAME
Etihad Airways, the flag carrier of Abu Dhabi, has always been the least economically logical of the three major Gulf carriers. It was launched in 2003 out of pique by the ruling Al Nahyan family. Why? A regional carrier called Gulf Air led by James Hogan decided it would de-emphasize its Abu Dhabi operations. Then the Al Nahyan family inexplicably hired the very same James Hogan to run Etihad.
It was Hogan's bright idea to compete on the world stage by investing in distressed airlines and creating the Etihad Airways Partners. The result? A motley collection of chronic money-losers like Air Serbia, Air Berlin, Jet Airways of India and Air Seychelles. To cap it all off, Hogan bought 49 percent of Alitalia, the most hopeless airline on the face of the earth.
Now it's all coming apart. In recent weeks, Etihad off-loaded a huge chunk of Air Berlin's fleet and staff to Lufthansa. There are big job cuts due at Alitalia and Alitalia's staff will surely react as Italians do: with wildcat strikes. There have even been layoffs announced at Etihad Airways itself, something unheard of among the Gulf airlines. The group has lost perhaps $2.5 billion on its misbegotten European airline investments.
The betting is that Etihad will sell off its European portfolio in the months ahead for pennies on the dollar. Hogan's long, strange ride in Abu Dhabi may end before the New Year. And watch for Etihad to pull in its horns and scrap dazzling, but financially mindless, innovations like The Residence and First Apartments.
DON'T MENTION THE ELECTIONS
This is the last column of the year--or, at least, news permitting, it's the last column of the year. And besides my heartiest wishes for a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Happy New Year, may I offer this one tip for flying in 2017?
Don't mention the elections in-flight.
A pro-Trump jackass harangued a planeful of Delta passengers last month and skated on the consequences. But it led Delta to change its policy about in-flight jackasses. And, just today, an idiotic college professor got booted off a JetBlue flight for verbally confronting Ivanka Trump.
Just don't mention the damned elections, okay? I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it. It's all forgotten now and let's hear no more about it.
This column is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.