Firm slates space resorts

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LONDON -- Is the sky the limit? Not according to Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo (WATG), an architectural firm specializing in the hospitality industry that has set its sites on designing space resorts. In a Millennium Forecast Forum that opened World Travel Market here on Nov. 15, Howard Wolff, the firm's president, outlined plans for a 100-room hotel in space by 2017.

Orbiting as part of a space station 200 miles above Earth, Wolff said the resort will have traditional guest rooms, restaurants, observation decks and recreational facilities where guests can experience full weightlessness. There will, however, be gravitational forces within the hotel, so that guests will not have to be "zipped into sleeping bags or held by velcro to the walls."

Wolff said that interest in space travel is indicated by the 15 million visitors each year to land-based space attractions in the U.S., and the firm currently is seeking U.S. investors for the project. WATG has offices in London; Newport Beach, R.I., and Honolulu.

He said that space travel operators, such as Alexandria, Va.-based Space Adventures (which recently announced its acquisition of Seattle's Zegrahm Expeditions), are planning to offer sub-orbital flights by 2005. The cost per passenger, he said, will average about $100,000 for a 90-minute experience. That's just over $1,100 per minute, for those without a calculator handy.

Wolff said that space travel is in a "catch-22" situation; the costs won't come down until it eventually becomes a mass-market product, and it won't become a mass-market product until the costs come down.

But, he noted, space operators will likely deal in cost per pound, and not necessarily in cost per person -- an observation that brought chuckles from attendees who perhaps have been meaning to slim down. More information about the firm is available via e-mail to [email protected]

In other news at World Travel Market, which runs through Nov. 18:

  • Irish Continental Group, a Dublin-based ferry operator, signed a contract to build what it calls the world's largest cruise ferry. Slated to cost $110 million, the 50,000-ton vessel, which by itself will double the company's capacity, will be built by Aker Finnyards Oy in Rauman, Finland. It is expected to enter service on the Dublin/Holyhead route in spring 2001. The ferry will carry some 1,300 cars and trucks plus 2,000 passengers and crew.
  • Lastminute.com, a Web site offering last-minute travel bargains, signed a deal with Forte Hotel Group, giving visitors to the site access to nearly 300 Meridien, Posthouse and Heritage hotels worldwide.
  • The Web site said the deal is the first in what will be a series of agreements with global hotel chains. Launched a year ago, the site claims 500,000 registered members. Based in the U.K., Lastminute.com said most of its customers book within one week of departure.

  • Best Western launched Hotel Guide 2000, a 132-page guide listing its 400 properties in England, Scotland and Wales. Aimed at the corporate market, the guide is an accompaniment to Best Western's Group Tour Manual, which is a group planning guide.
  • The hotel company also unveiled Freedom Pass 2000, an accommodations voucher program offering stays in city and country properties. Three options are offered, including a go-as-you-please plan, and two prebooked options offering meals.

  • Officials of London Luton Airport said the airport's new $68 million terminal will be opened Nov. 25 in a ceremony officiated by Queen Elizabeth II. The terminal, which will allow Luton to increase its capacity by 5 million passengers, will provide some 60 check-in desks and be linked to the airport's existing terminal by a walkway.
  • Luton's existing terminal is being refurbished to provide more restaurants and shops, officials said. Additionally, a new train station at Luton will provide service to central London by the end of November.

    Eleven trains per hour during the day, with reduced service at night, will be available from London's Kings Cross station. The trip will take 30 minutes.

    The new station, which cost $40 million to build and was funded by Railtrack, is located just outside the Luton facility. Shuttle busses will transport passengers between the station and the arrivals and departure halls.

  • In other airport news, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport reported a 6.7% increase in passengers during the first nine months of this year. Officials said 27.9 million people traveled through the airport. Airplane takeoffs and landings increased by 3.2%, they said.
  • Bass Hotels and Resorts announced management contracts for two properties in Egypt. Both slated to open in 2001, the resorts are the 450-room Hotel Sharm El Sheikh Inter-Continental, in Nammah Bay, and the 500-room Hotel Taba Heights Inter-Continental Resort in Taba.
  • Bass also said that it plans to reopen the Phoenicia Inter-Continental Hotel Beirut following a $100 million refurbishment. The hotel is slated to reopen in early 2000. It has been closed for 27 years, Bass said. A final room count on the property was not available.

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