No points to the Four Points Sheraton, top points to Qatar Airways, and time to bring out the Brancott

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To one side, my room at the Four Points by Sheraton offers a wonderful panoramic view over the waters from Tung Chung towards Hong Kong International Airport. To the other, it offers police arrest and a HK$25,000 fine. I will only incur the latter, however, if I step outside my door, something I have no intention of doing until Friday morning or, more technically, Day 3 of my compulsory quarantine.

Yes, it’s welcome back to my Interim Hong Kong Hotel Quarantine Bureau, my second such incarceration within the past month. At least this time I’m bound only by the relatively easy ‘3+4’ quarantine requirements (i.e. three days in a quarantine hotel followed by four at home).

I’m back in Hong Kong unexpectedly early  after the postponement of a meeting in Europe allowed me to jump on a flight yesterday from Dubai to Hong Kong. Having procured a last-minute ticket, that meant also trying to find a quarantine hotel at short notice. No problem as it turned out. Four Points by Sheraton, booked for my original stay this coming weekend, informed me they also had availability for the earlier dates.

That was the good news. The bad was that despite my giving five days’ notice, I would still have to pay for the original booking under their 14-day cancellation policy.

Shame on you Sheraton (and Marriot Bonvoy). Shame on you. SHAME ON YOU. Did I say it loud enough? Clearly, since the introduction of the ‘3+4’ regime there is no issue in finding a quarantine hotel room. So to maintain the same rigid 14-day cancellation policy from the days when quarantine room demand far exceeded supply is outrageous.

If I booked a ‘normal’ room at this hotel and sought to cancel five days out would they cite such a cancellation policy? No. But in taking advantage of the pandemic they are effectively charging me six nights for a three-night stay. Four Points Sheraton? No Points Sheraton more like it. Pity, for the hotel prices are pretty good and the food much better than I have had in previous quarantine locations.

Compare and contrast Four Points by Sheraton with Qatar Airways. Today I cancelled my flight from Zürich to Hong Kong booked for Friday, 9 September. That is precisely two days’ notice. From the time I (easily) retrieved my booking in the system it took me less than a minute to cancel and obtain a refund. No hassle, no complexity, no argument, no ifs, no buts, no maybes. Bravo Qatar Airways, confirmation of why I would choose to fly with them than any other airline in the world today.

The grim walk down a quarantine hotel corridor. What’s worse is that I am paying for it twice.

I have confinement compensations though. What better backdrop for a bottle of Cloudy Bay Chardonnay than… a cloudy bay? And it’s nicely twinned in my interim wine cellar with  the excellent Brancott Estate Letter Series Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (both bought at Dubai Duty Free).

A few years back, Pernod Ricard ran a marketing campaign with the tagline ‘Bring out the Brancott’. Feeling tired, stressed and facing a mountain load of work last night post-arrival, I consoled myself with those very words. ‘Bring out the Brancott’ I said to the only person who would listen. And did precisely that.

I also have this lovely view of land, sea, hills and air as additional compensation. As I write, I can make out a Cathay Pacific jet taxiing its way down the runway, while a distant roar tells me an aircraft has just taken off. There’s not too many roars, alas, as passenger traffic remains far short of 2019 levels.

Wish you were here… from a flying Kiwi to a caged one
Will an apple a day keep the COVID doctor away? I’m not so sure that the rest of my gourmet breakfast will.
I now greet the COVID testing staff like old friends. “Your nose been anywhere nice lately?” I half expect them to ask me.

In July, Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) welcomed 401,000 passengers, up +259.3% year-on-year. Impressive, right?

Well, yes and no. Certainly things are improving but let me remind you of the July 2019 number. 6.7 million. In short, passenger traffic is running at less than 6% of pre-pandemic levels.

I have done my bit to add to those numbers through June, August and September – and will be travelling again later this month. Yesterday’s arrivals experience was another sombre reminder of the pandemic’s dreadful impact on travel (and therefore on airport retail).

But I must compliment the team at HKIA for what is now a streamlined, slick and far less stressful process than in earlier days. From landing at the airport to being tested (negatively I am pleased to say) to boarding my bus to the No Points Sheraton took me less than an hour.

Check-in time for a fun-filled three day break

However, just as with the weather conditions outside my window, the skies over the travel industry here are brightening. Yesterday on LinkedIn, I noticed the post below from Ronald Koo, AM Wine & Spirits at Cathay Pacific Airways (one of the most knowledgeable wine experts I have ever met). The words speak for themselves. Something’s in the air. Let’s hope that something is passengers.