Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Around the industry this week....

The lively food scene in bustling Bangkok has added a new outlet with a familiar face to the airline catering industry.

The January 25 online edition of the Bangkok Post tells the story of the recently opened Gourmet House operated by Bangkok Air Catering. Linus Knobel, managing director of BAC is photographed for the story.

The Gourmet House deli is an interesting concept. Its selection of soups, meats, canap├ęs and baked goods are prepared BAC’s unit near Suvarnabhumi Airport and trucked into the establishment daily. At the outlet, chefs apply some finishing touches, and a fresh meal is ready for sit down or take-out. The high-end quality is said to be competitive with the city’s finest hotels but costing approximately 20 percent less.

The Post says BAC plans to open three more outlets in the city this year.

I visited the sparkling BAC unit four years ago, just before it began operating at full capacity and walked the soaring main hall of Suvarnabhumi Airport with Linus as crews where preparing the opening. He was excited with the anticipation of the opening, and it appears his enthusiasm for new ideas and new approaches -- fitting with Asia’s self-proclaimed Boutique Airline -- haven’t waned. Good luck to the Gourmet House. It’s on my list for lunch next time I pass through Bangkok.

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We welcome to the brother- and sisterhood of bloggers, Peter Jones, who over the years earned the unofficial title of Professor of Airline Catering at the University of Surrey. He is probably best known in the industry for his (and his students’) work and research for the International Travel Catering Association. 

Entitled simply Hospitality blog (more of a title than we have), Professor Jones calls his new venture “a blog for people interested in my work and the Hospitality Industry.” We’re interested in both. In his latest entry he talks about the evolution of e-dining featuring smart phone applications for ordering and selecting restaurant meals. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bacardi heats things up at Cruise Competition's VIP judging event


Mid-January is a very cold, windy and generally depressing time to live in Toronto. The excitement of the holiday season is a fading memory, the resolutions of the New Year are already proving tricky to keep and I must wait another full month before packing my bags for ITCA. This year however, much to my delight, I was invited to Miami by the good people of Bacardi to judge an important and growing event that they have held there for the past few years now.
It’s no secret that Bacardi, its well known brands and it’s impossibly beautiful ‘Bacardi Girls’ are very active in the cruise industry as well as being easy favourites among cruise passengers young and old(er) alike. But in addition to this, Bacardi, for the sixth year running, has offered the somewhat less conspicuous mixologists and culinary experts of the cruise world an opportunity to shine as brightly as the brands and girls on Bacardi’s front lines.
The Bacardi Cruise Competition is divided into two sections - cocktails and cuisine – each with five categories. In the cocktail section the categories are designed around specific brands. Those brands are as follows: Bacardi Rums, Grey Goose Vodkas, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Dewars Scotch Whisky and Signature Cocktail. In the cuisine section, the categories are designed around courses and include a vegetarian and heart healthy category, but must of course be created using one of the five Bacardi brands mentioned above.
While I have never really thought of myself as a VIP, that’s exactly the group of people I found myself amongst as I tasted and scrutinized the artfully recreated winning submissions from each category. Over the course of several hours at Miami’s famed and fabulous Forge restaurant in South Beach (home to one of the most extensive – and expensive – wine cellars in the entire Southeast), I found myself conversing with Bacardi’s top brass, other media representatives and some very experienced and respected food and beverage moguls from cruise lines like Celebration, Princess, NCL and Royal Caribbean.

A few entries clearly impressed the panel of judges, while others surprised and some even confused. Some cocktails were drained by most while others finished only by some. Although the judging was anonymous and private, a few clear favourites emerged. Personally, I was enamoured with a crab-based creation that was presented as top runner in the appetizer category. While I thought the name was just a tad bit over the top, the dish was as unique and full of interesting textures as it was tasty and fun to consume. The beverages for me were tougher to judge. One of the five criteria upon which both food and beverage were rated on was the creativity of the name. In my opinion, top marks for this went to a tall, fizzy and citrus-infused drink, which was deep orange in color thanks to the use of a blood orange garnish among other refreshing tropical ingredients. This particular beverage came at the halfway point in the tasting and its name was a popular British saying that typically rolls off the tongue after some unpleasant event unfolds.  I easily imagined myself sipping this entry on a pool deck as I cruised out of port in Miami.
While my worldly counterparts marked the ten finalists quickly and with confidence, I found myself scratching out marks and changing them, only to scratch them out and change them again. I definitely felt a bit of pressure and responsibility knowing that verdict passed down by our group of a dozen or so would determine just two winners whose careful experiments behind the bar and in the kitchen travelled long roads to arrive on our great wooden table, surpassing all others in aroma, taste, texture, name, originality and operational viability.
Now back in my native land of frostbite and snow tires, I,  like the 10 outstanding hopefuls chosen from more than 1,600 entries and 27 cruise and ferry lines, wait anxiously for March 14th when Bacardi’s energetic team and beautiful girls will bestow the honours of Bartender of the Year and Chef of the Year at an awards event taking place once more at the enchanting Forge in sun-touched Miami.



                                                                                                 - Maryann Simson


*Don't miss the full write-up with more pictures in the upcoming ITCA Nice issue of PAX

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Industry watchers are again watching Asia

Two bits of news surfaced in the e-mail this morning, both of which signal that the parts of Asia outside of China are taking on increased interest by travelers. Also, with the Chinese airport expansion continuing apace, companies outside the country should be taking notice.

The latter story is a report from Boyd Group International. The company’s founder and president, Michael Boyd was keynote speaker a few years ago at the International Flight Services Association.

“The assumption is that China’s airport expansion program will be a huge opportunity for U.S. companies,” Boyd. “Maybe not.”

Like the rest of the country, infrastructure manufacturing in China is growing fast, and the country is building an aviation industry within its own borders. A Chinese company recently purchased Continental Motors in the United States. Boyd says this is just the start of a trend that could see more Chinese companies aggressively seeking market share outside the home country.

This prediction -- and Mr. Boyd known for bold, thought-provoking predictions -- can be found in the company’s Aviation Predictions – year 2011. The preview that arrived today had the Group’s thoughts on the future of airport security (expect rebellion), regional jets (expect more retirements) and growth for the year (little in the way of new capacity as fuel prices climb.)

But while companies may be eyeing the United States, travelers around the world are increasingly seeking out information on Asian cities. Skyscanner has tracked the top 10 emerging destinations, and found eight of them in Asia.

Leading the group is Shanghai, home last year’s World Exposition. Taipei, Beijing, Tokyo and Ho Chi Minh City rounded out the top five. Also in the top 10 are Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Skyscanner notes that searches for Shanghai have increased 243 percent

“As U.S. travelers continue to look for new and exciting vacation ideas overseas throughout 2011, I expect Asian destinations will continue to rise in popularity and may even usurp some of the more traditional established destinations,” said Scot Carson. Skyscanner compiled the list based on search data and flight comparisons that is the site’s specialty.

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Judges are assembling this week in Miami for the annual Bacardi Cruise Competition. PAX International’s Maryann Simson is one of the guest judges this year. Look for updates on the yearly competition in our print and online issues. 

--Rick Lundstrom

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tracking costs, improving comfort

The release yesterday of Air Transport Association’s third quarter 2010 Airline Cost Index shows that while carriers in the United States are seeing cost increases in the neighborhood of 5 percent from the same period in 2009, they have adjusted to those realities in a number of ways.

Over the past year, the ATA notes that airlines have improved fuel efficiency, labor productivity and generated much needed revenue to offset increases; and have actually pushed down break-even load factors 8.7 percentage points to 75.9 percent.

“Thanks to a strengthening economy and the continued efforts of airlines to adapt to a volatile environment, the increase in costs did not stand in the way of profitability this quarter,” said the ATA’s chief economist John Heimlich in yesterday’s release of the third-quarter cost index.

During the quarter, airlines also spent more on advertising and promotion (12.8 percent), aircraft rents and ownership (6.1 percent), landing fees (3.8 percent) and interest (3.6 percent).

According to ATA, food and beverage costs of its member airlines amounted to approximately 1.6 percent of the total operating expenses, and cost increases to the airlines for food and beverage in the third quarter of last year came in at less than 3 percent.

Further information on costs, and the “Composite Cost Index” formula that the ATA uses to determine quarterly costs can be found on the ATA website.

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It will be awhile before passengers can enjoy the spaciousness and atmosphere that will be available on the long-haul 787, but before too long, a Continental Airlines 737-800 will take to the air with sculpted sidewalls, LED lighting and bigger overhead bins offered in Boeing’s Sky Interior.

Boeing's Sky Interior on Continental'
Continental's new 737-800.
The new Continental jet is first bound for Orlando, where it will be outfitted with fuel-saving winglets. But expect it to be flying sometime this year.

The new 737-800 promises to be less noisy, better ventilated and decked out with touch screen panels for flight attendant controls.

"When customers first step on the plane, they will immediately notice the fresh cabin architecture," said Ron Baur, vice president fleet on December 29, when the aircraft was delivered. "This modern interior gives the airplane a more open look and feel while increasing cabin comfort and overhead storage space."

No word yet on where the 737-800 will be going first, but Continental plans to have several more flying this year.

-Rick Lundstrom