Intercontinental Hotels upbeat on Europe recovery

By Simon Zekaria

–Intercontinental Hotels’ CEO upbeat on European recovery

–Impact of Europe’s debt crisis on hotel and travel market will be short-term

–IHG plans to more than double its presence in emerging markets in the next few years

LONDON (MarketWatch) — Europe’s debt crisis could have a short-term impact on the global hotel and travel market, but Intercontinental Hotels Group PLC (IHG.LN ), the world’s largest hotel operator by number of rooms, is upbeat on an eventual recovery even as macroeconomic woes cloud visibility, Chief Executive Richard Solomons told Dow Jones Newswires.

Wide stock declines have continued across markets, while oil prices and the euro have suffered falls in a global sell-off as investors take their positions on fresh worries about a Greek default.

“If you look around the world and you are looking for signs of a slowdown, Europe probably is it,” said Solomons in a recent interview. “We have to recognize the euro zone has got some issues economically and the resolution of that, whichever way it goes, is potentially going to have some short-term impact. But long term, I am sure they’ll get it right. It’s a huge, wealthy population.

“We are actually quite small in some of the worst markets –Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain.” Solomons added.

Solomons said Eastern Europe remains key to its growth potential even though the group’s major focus for expansion is booming emerging economies. “[Europe is] not going to be the fastest growing part of our business over the next few years, but I think there are opportunities, particularly in some of the developing markets there.”

IHG, which largely operates a franchise rather than direct ownership model, has seven brands but has previously said it has the scope to widen its portfolio, given the roster of rivals which have more than double that number, such as U.S.-based Marriott International Inc.


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, which owns the Ritz-Carlton chain, and Sheraton-owner Starwood Hotels Resorts Worldwide Inc.


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It plans to more than double the size of its operations in China, India and the Middle East in the next few years as it takes advantage of growing traveller numbers and global economic trends, boosted by increased life expectancy, the use of low-cost airlines and Internet access.

The company expects to provide more information on the roll-out of a new upscale brand in China towards the end of the year, and on a new midscale brand in the U.S. early next year.

Solomons said there are plans to export the Chinese brand internationally. “I think we will. I can’t [say] quite how or when. We know that it will have an appeal in the broader Asia market, and probably longer term [there] will [be] an opportunity to put it into even Western markets where there is going to be a lot of Asian business.”

Solomons said the group, with around 4,500 hotels and a further 1,200 in the pipeline, has “enormous growth built in,” but added it remains on the lookout for add-on deals.

“We don’t need to do mergers and acquisitions to grow. If you think about our scale markets where we have expertise, it probably makes most sense to bolt something on–[such as] in the U.S., China and the Middle East.”

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Head of Greek Church to Travel to Germany for Medical Tests

The Archbishop of Athens and All
Greece Hieronymos II is travelling to Germany for medical tests,
the Archdiocese of Athens said in a statement on its web site.

The Archbishop has been suffering from persistent fever and
an infection, the state-run Athens News Agency reported today.
Hieronymos has been head of the Orthodox Church in Greece since
February 2008.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Paul Tugwell at
[email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Angela Cullen at [email protected]


Possible Strikes May Affect Travel in Greece – About

I was so hoping that “strike season” had paused for the time being – but no. If you’re traveling in Greece right now, several potential strikes may impact you. Usually, one or two will fade away without actually happening, but be aware of the following:

Thursday, September 21st. Public Transportation in Athens Just about the only thing operating will be the taxis, making arrivals and departures very tricky.

Sunday, September 25th. Air Traffic Controllers – 24-hour strike slated for Sunday, September 25th. This long an action usually impacts travel for a day or so after, as airlines scramble to get passengers to their destinations.

Wednesday, October 28th. Air Traffic Controllers – 4-hour work stoppage. My sense is that one or both of these two actions will probably be cancelled, but that’s just a guess.

More on Strikes in Greece


German town haunted by ghost of Hitler

On a mountain-bike, the cyclist comes barrelling through the Bavarian pine forest, racing along a rough alpine track straight through what would have been Adolf Hitler’s living room.

He does not stop, or even glance, at the greyish stone wall set in the nearby hillside which is all that remains of Hitler’s mountain retreat, known as the Berghof, his favourite residence for more than 10 years until his death by suicide in a Berlin bunker in 1945.

The Berghof, half way up a Bavarian mountain, was damaged by bombing at the end of the Second World War and U.S. occupation forces dynamited what was left.

No signpost indicates the way to it, but a notice board does tell visitors they have reached the right spot once they find this historical no man’s land, neither quite on, nor off the map, a symbol of how Germany still finds it difficult to deal with its Nazi past.

In contrast, Hitler’s “tea house,”known as the “Eagle’s Nest,” a nearby mountaintop lodge, is well on the beaten track.

Tens of thousands of visitors follow a dizzying road to the top for breathtaking views of peaks and valleys in both Germany and Austria.

The 1,800-metre-high Eagle’s Nest, which now houses a restaurant, a cafe and shops selling books with titles such as Hitler’s mountain, was a gift from the Nazi party to its leader on his 50th birthday.

It is said he suffered from fear of heights and visited infrequently.

Historians want both sites preserved for posterity, but others fear highlighting any site too closely associated with the Fuehrer could encourage perverse pilgrimages or turn the area into a Nazi Disneyland.

“You must be very careful not to foster a fascination with Hitler,” said Axel Drecoll, a 36-year-old historian in charge of the local documentation centre whose exhibits, visited by 160,000 people a year, depict both Hitler’s domestic life on the Obersalzberg mountain, overlooking Berchtesgaden, along with Nazi crimes.

“You’ve got to satisfy the curiosity of the tourists without pandering to sensationalism,” he said.

Locals were appalled when a newspapers this year reported that a British company was offering a Hitler holiday to Berchtesgaden, along with other sites associated with the Fuehrer.

“That really made waves,” said local tourism director Michael Griesser who recalls how Bavarian authorities sought to stop the so-called Face of Evil Tour before realizing they were dealing with ordinary tourists rather than neo-nazis. Of course, there are still a few of those.

Some, surreptitiously, lay flowers and candles at the Berghof on Hitler’s birthday, or wreathes on the anniversary of his death, but the documentation centre, a short distance away, quickly disposes of them, says Drecoll.

The real problem, he believes, isn’t right-wing radicals but the fact that, as people grow less afraid of the Nazi past, “the line between historical inquiry and commercial kitsch gets blurred.”

Ingrid Scharfenberg, 80, who runs the Zum Tuerken guest house, one of the few original buildings still standing near the Berghof, feels she’s herself treated like a Nazi exhibit.

“People say this is the brown (Nazi) mountain and that everyone in Berchtesgaden is Nazi. You can’t blame generation after generation just because (Hitler) once lived here,” she said.

The U.S. military kept a lid on the place for years by turning it into a recreational area for soldiers before handing the mountain back to the Bavarian government in 1995.

Until then all ruins, including some 12 kilometres of underground tunnels and bunkers, much of it closed to the public, had been subject to an official, but secret, preservation order.

But the order was then lifted “for political reasons,” says Egon Johannes Greipl, head of Bavaria’s Office for Ancient Monument Preservation.

And authorities started carting off what remained of the rubble.

A few marble paving stones from Hitler’s terrace did get recycled, by mistake, into a small outdoor chapel, newspapers said.

Greipl now wants the preservation order restored.

“After all nobody would think of demolishing the ruins of Olympia (Greece) and argue it would be better preserved in a documentation centre.

“It’s original historical evidence you have on the Obersalzberg,” he says.

Those opposing the idea fear neo-Nazi pilgrimages, or the jeopardizing of local tourism through too close an association with Nazi history, said Greipl.

Charlotte Knobloch, the 78-year-old leader of the Jewish association in Munich, argues that neo-Nazi pilgrimages are not possible precisely because everything, outside of the documentation centre, has been done away with.

“A pilgrimage site must have a focus and there isn’t one,” she said, underlining her opposition to any preservation order.

Try as it may Berchtesgaden, like Germany, has trouble finding the proper balance when dealing with such history. A five-star hotel, recently built on the ruins of a house that belonged to Nazi leader Hermann Goering, near the Berghof, made sure all rooms were provided with a copy of a historical book on Hitler’s crimes.

But such bed-time reading bothered some guests and the books were removed to the hotel library.


Holidays to Turkey Specialist Reports Poor Late Bookings Market

Air Force Lt. Col. Sean Hackbarth expects Tuesday to be mostly a normal day. He plans to report for work at the Federal Aviation Administration, where he’s a military liaison, and commute home to Northern Virginia when the day is done.


Stocks end mixed as promise of Greek debt fix dims

NEW YORK (AP) — Investor optimism faded in a hurry Tuesday after two days of conferences ended with no resolution to Greece’s debt crisis.

Stocks erased nearly all of their gains in the last hour of trading after rallying for much of the day on hopes the Fed would stimulate the economy.

At the closing bell, the Dow Jones industrial average was left with a gain of 7.65 points, or 0.1 percent, at 11,408.66. It had been up as much as 149.21 points earlier in the day.

The Standard Poor’s 500 index fell 2, or 0.2 percent, to 1,202.09. The Nasdaq composite fell 22.59, or 0.9 percent, to 2,590.24.

Many analysts believe the Fed will announce a new stimulus plan at the end of a two-day policy meeting Wednesday. But another two-day meeting, a teleconference between Greek officials and international lenders, spurred sellers late in the day.

After the teleconference, the European Commission said debt inspectors would continue to review Greece’s progress on its budget goals early next week. That suggested to investors that a resolution to Greece’s debt crisis wouldn’t come in the next few days.

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos attempted to convince the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank, known collectively as the Troika, that Greece can make deep budget cuts. Greece must meet the Troika’s strict budget targets in order to qualify for a second installment of the rescue package it received in 2010 to keep it from defaulting on its debt.

Greece is only one of several European countries that investors fear may be at risk of failing to pay their debts. On Monday night, the ratings agency Standard Poor’s cut Italy’s credit rating by one notch, citing the country’s growing debt and weak growth outlook. Italy has the second-biggest debt burden among countries that use the euro, after Greece.

If Greece or Italy were to default, European banks that have lent money to the countries could lose billions of dollars. That could hurt the European banking system and have repercussions for U.S. banks, which have lent billions to their European counterparts. Investors are concerned that a default in Europe could cause a lending crisis similar to what happened after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Investors have shifted between optimism and pessimism that the region’s debt problems will be resolved. Stock prices have swung sharply for months in response to investors’ changing mood. Moves of more than 100 points in the Dow have become commonplace.

Right now, hopes are not high that Greece will avoid a default, said David Smith, chief investment officer at Rockland Trust Investment Management Group, a firm based in Rockland, Mass., that manages about $1.7 billion in assets. “I’m sitting here, like a lot of investors, thinking we don’t have anything like a concrete solution,” he said.

A bleak forecast for U.S. economic growth added to fears the U.S. could be headed for a second recession, but sparked hopes that the Fed would be persuaded to enact stimulus measures.

The International Monetary Fund lowered its forecast for the country’s growth this year. Some saw it as another reason for the Fed to act. The IMF said it expects the U.S. economy to grow only 1.5 percent this year and 1.8 percent in 2012. In June, it had forecast 2.5 percent growth in 2011 and 2.7 percent in 2012.

The IMF also lowered its outlook for the 17 countries that use the euro because it fears Greece will default on its debt.

In a sign that the market’s afternoon rally was a cautious one, stocks were led higher by industries that tend to do well regardless of the economy, like utilities and health care. Investors are reluctant to take much risk, said Quincy Krosby, market strategist for Prudential Financial.

“The market already thinks the Fed has telegraphed that it wants to push down rates,” said Krosby. “What you’re witnessing now is traders taking profits.”

After the close of trading, software company Oracle Corp. said its server business had weakened in its most recent quarter, sending the company’s stock down 2.3 percent in after-hours trading.

In other corporate news, Carnival Corp. rose 5.1 percent after it said its 3 percent rise in quarterly earnings was due in part to higher ticket prices. There were concerns that consumers would cut back on travel because they’re worried about the economy, but the cruise line’s profit beat forecasts.

Ralph Lauren Corp. rose to an all-time high of $154.62 after an analyst upgraded the stock because of its strong international business and sales of higher-priced merchandise.

Apple Corp. also hit an all-time high of $422.86 a share. The company is seen as able to withstand a weak economy because of the huge popularity of its iPhones and iPads.

Netflix fell 9.5 percent a day after customers balked at the streaming video and DVD rental company’s decision to separate its two businesses.

ConAgra Foods Inc. fell 1.7 percent after the food maker said higher costs for consumer foods sent its quarterly profit down 42 percent, below the expectations of Wall Street analysts.

Molycorp Inc. plunged 12 percent after a JPMorgan analyst downgraded the miner’s stock because of a sharp drop in the price of rare-earth minerals.

Nearly two stocks fell for every one that rose. Trading was light, at 3.8 billion shares.


Central Holidays and Liberty Travel Form Alliance



September 20, 2011


By: George Dooley

Travel Agent


Central Holidays Travel Group reports an agreement with Liberty Travel that makes the Central Holidays family of brands preferred providers for all of the company’s travel agencies offering a wide range of travel services. This includes travel to Italy, Greece, France, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Turkey and Egypt – including motorcoach escorted inclusive tours, independent itineraries, customized group travel, fly/drive programs, cruises, ski vacations, car rentals, and meeting and incentive services.

“We are pleased to be selected as a preferred supplier by Liberty Travel, which is one of the one of the largest and most experienced travel agencies in the U.S.,” said Fred Berardo, president of Central Holidays Travel Group. “The company has more than 170 travel agencies in North America staffed by more than 900 travel professionals as well as a proven and long-standing brand and we look forward to providing them with destination expertise and meticulously planned itineraries as well as superior service, support, and the ideal options to fulfill their clients’ travel needs.”

Established nearly forty years ago, Central Holidays offers the reliability and security of booking and traveling with a strong, long-established, robust tour operator with a time-honored history as well as an ongoing commitment to providing the best quality travel programs and unparalleled client service.

Some attributes of a Central Holidays escorted motorcoach tours include well-located European hotels, free wine, mineral water, and coffee with all lunches and dinners on Premier Escorted tours of Italy, and use of the increasingly popular “Hear Clear” personal audio system, which allows travelers to hear their tour directors and local guides detail the visited sights and attractions.

Central Holidays also says it is also offering a “book early save” promotion for land-only escorted tours and programs. If you book early and place a deposit by October 31, 2011, you can save 10 percent on 2012/2013 land-only Escorted Tours to Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Turkey or Egypt.

Visit www.centralholidays.com

Related Links :

Central Holidays Introduces Small Group Vacations in France

“Book Early and Save” in Europe and Egypt With Central Holidays

Central Holidays Expands Agent Training and FAM Trips


To Tourists, Greek Debt Crisis Is a Distant Concept

Greeks have cut back on vacations, prompting a 20 percent drop in domestic tourism. But the number of foreign visitors to its sun-drenched islands and ancient monuments is set to reach a record of 16.5 million this year.

That is up 12 percent from 2010, according to the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises. Sorely needed revenue is expected to increase by the same rate, netting 11 billion euros ($15 billion).

In places like the Cretan port of Rethymno, the debt crisis seemed a distant concept at times. During a recent visit, restaurants were full all along the coastal promenade.

“Our foreign customers have always been our bread and butter,” Maria Stavroulaki, the owner of the Knossos tavern, said one late-summer night. “They saved us this year, too.”

Greece faces a long road to recovery after two years of austerity. The finance minister, in one of the more optimistic forecasts, said last month that the economy could shrink more than 5 percent this year before slowly returning to growth in 2012. With most economic indicators pointing downward, the increase in visitors is seen as a godsend.

Tourism accounts for almost a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product and one in five jobs. Exports rose 40 percent in the first half of 2011, after a 25 percent drop in 2010, but they account for a much smaller share of gross domestic product.

Coastal shipping, which feeds tourism, performed well, too. The number of passengers on cruise ships docking in Greece up 28 percent in the first eight months of the year.

“Without a doubt, tourism has already helped soften the blow of the economic crisis,” said Pavlos Geroulanos, the culture and tourism minister. “New markets keep growing and old ones are coming back with an old passion for Greece.”

The rebound, achieved despite fierce competition from regional rivals like Spain and Turkey, appears to be part luck, part planning.

The Arab Spring uprisings diverted visitors from popular tourist destinations like Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, industry analysts say, and Greece was able to capture a share of that.

Advertising appears to have helped as well, with the central and local authorities promoting religious tourism, mountaineering and agricultural tourism. An online government video campaign called “You in Greece” showed satisfied visitors against a backdrop of tantalizing beaches and picture-perfect ports.

Meanwhile, the reduction in January of the value-added tax on hotels to 6.5 percent from 13 percent — one of the few tax breaks introduced amid several austerity measures — allowed hoteliers to reduce their prices to attract more customers.

“The first thing that the Greeks did right is drop their prices early this year,” said Toby Nicol, communications director of the World Travel and Tourism Council, an industry group based in London.

As usual, around a third of all foreign visitors this year came from Greece’s most loyal markets: Germany — despite the grumbling over having to pay for Greece’s bailout — and Britain. But there was also a surge in visitors from Russia after the lifting of visa restrictions at the end of last year; from the former Soviet states; and from Serbia, Israel, Turkey and China.

Official figures are not broken down by country of origin, according to the head of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises, Andreas A. Andreadis, but visitor numbers from the new markets are up sharply and show rich potential for further gains.

“Greece is more accessible to Russia and Israel than Spain, for example, so we should exploit this,” he said.

To help maintain a competitive edge, entrepreneurs want sales taxes on all tourism services cut to the base rate of 6.5 percent. Some packages are still taxed at 13 percent.

They are also lobbying for the halving of Greek airport taxes, which are among the highest in Europe, and the reversal of the near-doubling of value-added tax in restaurants and bars, to 23 percent.

Tax breaks are not enough, though. For Greece to build on this year’s success, it must also dispel its image as an unpredictable destination where labor strikes can cause transport disruption and protests can turn violent, Mr. Nicol said.

“Travelers will think twice about visiting a destination if they’re worried about missing their ferry connection,” he said.

Violent anti-austerity rallies are thought to have kept many visitors away from Athens, where arrivals have fallen 3 percent this year. About 10,000 hotel cancellations were made in one particularly riotous week in June, when tough measures were being voted on in Parliament.

There were anti-austerity protests on some of the islands, too, but hoteliers did what they could to muddle through.


Greece Cites ‘Progress’ in Talks, but No Deal

ATHENS—Greece reported progress Tuesday in talks with a troika of international inspectors over fresh austerity measures the country must take to meet its deficit goals, but failed to clinch a deal that would secure the country its next installment of badly needed aid.

Greece’s finance ministry said the negotiations made “satisfactory progress” but that the talks would continue over the weekend in Washington, where Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos is to attend the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“Over the weekend in Washington, where Mr. Venizelos will be participating in the annual IMF summit, the …