Business Travel Poll Awards 2000

Our business travel poll this year has proved one of the most enlightening we have ever conducted.

This is my favourite poll of the year, and I suspect it's our readers' too. In only nine days of polling via our website, 288 of you enthusiastically logged on to give us your votes.

Let's face it, business travel is a fact of life for most of us, and the more of it you do, the more of an obsession the quality of airline and hotel service becomes. The illustrious Russell Julius - the former Jardine Fleming head of Asian equity capital markets - was well known for being able to tell you where he'd be sitting on any airplane if you gave him a seat number. His wife even went so far as to tell him at dinner parties, "Don't be an airline bore, Russell."

Well, he's not alone.

nov travel poll pic 1Our poll this year sees some interesting trends. More of our voters are travelling economy than in the past, and fewer flying first; the bulk still travel business, however. The Shangri-La retains its position as the top hotel chain, but the real mover this year is the Mandarin Oriental group, which jumps into second place. Those ads with Vanessa Mae and Elle Macpherson saying they're "fans" are obviously working.

One trend which hasn't changed is Singapore Airlines' dominance, a fact which is all the more impressive since the bulk of our voters come from Hong Kong. Flattering comments about SIA abounded. (Please note: our poll was carried out a month before SIA's tragic crash in Taipei.)

One respondent said: "Even though one sector could not be confirmed on business class by the flight date and I had to travel economy, they took "business class" care of me on the flight."

Another said: "Outstanding service, comfort, inflight entertainment and menu (fine wines). The only airline where my wife can really enjoy the flight, even if alone with our young children, who are always well taken care of by stewardesses when needed."

In fact there was only one churlish remark about SIA, which took rather the opposite tack from the above: "The Singapore Girl only caters for male business travelers - females are only regarded as second choice, let alone with kids..."

For intra-Asian flights SIA and Cathay Pacific won almost all the votes, which is not a result that is particularly surprising. In the comments, however, Cathay got mixed reviews. The food, for goodness sake! What's happened to it? You're as puzzled as I am.

nov travel poll pic 2Among some fairly warm comments, were juxtaposed a few very disgruntled remarks, such as: "I am a gold card member of Cathay Pacific. I had a phone call informing me that my mother was seriously ill and not expected to live through the night in Australia. I went straight to the airport having telephoned my agent (Amex) to organize a ticket from Hong Kong to Australia and was told that because I was in the airport Cathay would not allow them to issue the ticket. I spent two and a quarter hours at the ticket counter at the airport pleading for a ticket which Cathay finally issued at greater cost."

Not exactly the "heart of Asia" on that occasion.

Another described Cathay as: "Efficient in a cold manner; on one occasion, an air stewardess spent quite a lot of time talking to my neighbour trying to get him to rent her apartment in Singapore."

One respondent also touched on my own pet hate: lounge access. The respondent said: "I am a gold card Marco Polo member, but was recently turned out of the lounge as I was flying to Chengdu on a different carrier ... CX does not fly to Chengdu. This was after having made several round trip long hauls in first and business this year to destinations like New York, Rome, Los Angeles and Sydney."

My own version of this is the whole con with OneWorld - the alliance Cathay has with British Airways. Try flying BA and getting into the BA lounge with a silver Marco Polo card. Worse, Cathay won't let you into theirs, because you're flying BA. What a great alliance.

One aspect of Cathay's service that almost everyone praised, however, was - in fact - Cathay's lounge in Chep Lap Kok. Said one: "Excellent facilities - lots of newspapers and magazines, food is fantastic, noodles for free, comfortable chairs and spacious."

In fact, only one negative remark was made about Cathay's lounge: "I am voting for the Wing only because of the spa - the rest of it is not all that great. They should think of a children's play area similar to British Airways lounge in London - that is such a great idea."

Good ideas apparently abound in Virgin's lounge in Heathrow. It offers shirt pressing services when you take your shower.









As for other airlines, Northwest and KLM got an unusually high number of disgruntled comments. And one traveller commented that on a Malaysian Airlines flight both the toilets in business class were out of order.

Qantas, which is not a personal favourite of mine, received a few abusive remarks too. Said one: "They would not allow us to bring aboard a compactable baby stroller. There is no flexibility in the rules even though the cabin was only half full. I will not fly them again."

Last year I flew in Qantas' business class and the Sydney check-in counter refused to let me take my suit carrier on as hand luggage. To my consternation I was told this was because "It might kill someone."

A nicer story about Qantas, however, was posted: "The hostess spilled red wine over a white shirt, but the stewardess promptly removed the stain by handwashing my shirt in the toilet."

My favourite airline gripe, however, comes from Garuda. One business traveller told us: "I checked in, and was waiting to board, but was told my seat was no longer available as a "VIP" had requested the whole top deck. Long may they remain an emerging country."

Your views on hotels were equally strident. Some were general, such as: "I was accused of theft by a jeweller in Bangkok and the hotel personnel did not help me and insisted I pay the 500 baht that they were after."

And others picked out particular hotels for blame or praise. Breakfast-in-bed at the Peninsula, Hong Kong was given the thumbs up. And a nice story from the Grand Hyatt in Seoul: "I left for the airport leaving my passport in the hotel and they sent a driver to bring it to me at the airport."

Not surprisingly the Ritz Carlton Millennia in Singapore got lots of praise. One of you remarked: "It has the sexiest bathroom of any hotel I have stayed in."

Another Ritz that was widely praised was the YTL-owned one in Kuala Lumpur, described as "one of the best boutique hotels in the world. They are ready to bend over backwards to assist."

If you haven't stayed there, you ought to sample it on your next business trip to KL. Whenever you walk through the lobby the staff greet you by name. And in the special top floor club I can remember walking into breakfast, having arrived late the night before. Without even knowing my room number, I was greeted by my name and asked how I liked my eggs. I am still at a loss as to how the staff pulled that one off.

Thanks once again to all of you for responding, and making this Asia's premier business travel poll. Click here for the full results. FA

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