Last minute deal for Emirates?

I hear Emirates Airline may be eyeing up a big deal in the travel market. Earlier this week, the airline announced a tie up with short break specialist lastminute.com, the UK’s largest hotel intermediary which will provide customers with access to over 100,000 three to five-star hotels in 59 countries via the airline’s website.

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By  Ben Dawson Published  December 17, 2006

|~||~||~|I hear Emirates Airline may be eyeing up a big deal in the travel market. Earlier this week, the airline announced a tie up with short break specialist lastminute.com, the UK’s largest hotel intermediary which will provide customers with access to over 100,000 three to five-star hotels in 59 countries via the airline’s website. Hotel options will be promoted on emirates.com under the heading “book a hotel” and with the service live on Emirates’ website for an initial 18 months. The service will give customers access to over 100,000 city and resort-based hotels worldwide, with access to lastminute.com’s full range of luxury, holiday and hip hotels. It will initially be available in English with customers able to pay for their accommodation in pounds sterling, US dollars and the euro. A wider range of languages and currency will be introduced in the future. But that, my spies tell me, could just be the start. Some executives at Emirates believe it may even be worth taking a stake in lastminute.com — now owned by US group Sabre, which bought the web pioneer for US$1.2bn two years ago, and which itself is undergoing a US$4.5bn, US$32.75 per share takeover by two US private equity companies, Silver Lake Partners and Texas Pacific Group. At its peak as a UK stock market company, lastminute.com was worth US$1.6bn, but its value collapsed soon after listing in 2000. “We think it still has great potential, and maybe we will do more than just a tie-up,” says my source. Space-age Bahrain From air travel to space travel. I exclusively revealed earlier this year that Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson was looking around the Gulf for a site from which to launch his commercial space flights. My spies tell me he may have found one — not in the UAE, as expected, but in Bahrain. I am told an announcement could come early next year, revealing plans to build a space station at the site in 2010. A Virgin source says: “We have nearly sold out all the seats for the first year of Virgin Galactic (the company’s commercial space travel programme) but always felt that the really big market would be the Arab world. So the idea of having a space station there makes perfect sense.” Ace set for dubai After announcing that he was to design and build his own golf course in Dubai, I hear that superstar Tiger Woods may have set a trend. Another sporting legend, tennis ace John McEnroe, is now believed to be planning his own “Dubai Tennis Centre”. McEnroe — who last week admitted it was time to quit the seniors tour — was in Dubai last month to play former archrival Bjorn Borg in an exhibition match. A big fan of the emirate, I am told that McEnroe’s advisors are studying plans to build a special tennis academy, which will be run by the former US Open and Wimbledon champion. A friend of the star tells me: “John has been to Dubai many times, and is impressed by what he has seen. He now realises that he can’t go on playing tennis forever, even on the seniors tour, so this kind of thing sounds very appealing to him.” Budgeting on the box I am getting increasingly worried that Al Jazeera International may have already spent a little too much cash. Earlier in the week, the station’s superstar Riz Khan was in Dubai to cover the International Film Festival. Curiously, I am told he had to make do with low-grade accommodation in a shared villa. No five-star presidential hotel suite for Riz. Not even a three-star room for Mr Khan. This may tie in with comments from the station’s managing director Nigel Parsons elsewhere in this magazine. Asked about the huge number of job applications he has received, Parsons has no qualms about telling Arabian Business: “We don’t pay a dime more than our competitors.”||**||

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