InterContinental Hotel Group prepares for 2011 openings in Russia, Portugal, Qatar, more

A new year brings new hotels. While travelers are prepping their calendars in anticipation of 2011 trips, hotel groups are working hard to open new properties around the world for guests. International expansion in Asia and Europe are top priorities for hotel groups including Marriott, Starwood and Hilton. Next up: InterContinental Hotel Groups plans their 2011 expansion including hotels in Russia, Portugal and a second property in London.

I caught up with my contacts at InterContinental to get a sneak peak at what’s to come:

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InterContinental Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (February 2011)

The InterContinental Kuala Lumpur is a 473-room hotel located at Jalan Ampang, a prestigious upscale address in the heart of the capital’s business, shopping and entertainment district. The hotel is a short distance to the iconic Petronas Twin Towers and the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. There will be five restaurants, offering Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian and international cuisine.

InterContinental Moscow Tverskaya, Russia (July 2011)

Situated on the site of the former Minsk Hotel at Number 22 Tverskaya, InterContinental Moscow Tverskaya will be part of a brand new 64,000 square-meter development with luxury retail outlets and state-of-the-art offices. Within a short walking distance are the Kremlin, City Hall and Pushkin Square. Guest rooms with have hardwood parquet flooring, built-in TV in both the bedroom and bathroom, and bespoke furniture, including one-of-a-kind credenzas featuring etchings of Seven Sisters skyscrapers that were planned but never built. InterContinental Porto Palacios das Cardosas, Portugal (July 2011)

The hotel will occupy what was once the Palace of the Cardosas, located on the main square of Porto, Portugal‘s second largest city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There will be 105 guestrooms, with Penthouse suites located on the 7th floor. A main feature of the hotel will be the Cafe Astoria, once part of a bank that occupied the palace, which will have its original Belle Époque elements restored. The hotel will also have an urban spa with pool and sauna.

InterContinental Doha West Bay, Qatar (late 2011)

InterContinental Doha West Bay will be part of a 60-storey tower located in the Doha city center, close to the main shopping and business districts. The 540-room hotel will have suites and serviced residences, as well as a Club InterContinental. There will be extensive dining options, including a steak house, sushi bar and dim sum restaurant. Some of the restaurants will be located on the 55th and 56th levels, with views of the city. Another standout feature: an outdoor sky pool located on the 46th floor.

InterContinental London Westminster, England (early 2012)

InterContinental London Westminster will occupy the former Queen Anne’s Chambers, originally built in the 19th century. The 254-room hotel is InterContental’s second London property and only a short walking distance to major landmarks including Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Royal Parks and the London Eye.

Qatar’s 2022 World Cup stadium concepts

On Thursday, FIFA announced that Qatar defeated South Korea, Japan, Australia and the United States in the race to host the 2022 World Cup. This historic decision marks the first time a Middle Eastern country will welcome a major sporting event.

FIFA’s choice has brought a significant backlash in the American media, with critics claiming that the summer heat (as high as 120 degrees Farenheit) will be unbearable and that a country the size of Delaware (with 1.6 million residents) will not be able to handle an estimated influx of 400,000 spectators.

Nonetheless, Qatar has outlined a complex plan to renovate three stadiums and build nine brand new complexes across seven host cities. Bid organizers claim that they are developing revolutionary methods to keep each of the stadiums climate-controlled and carbon neutral, at an estimated construction cost of about $6.2 billion.

Check out the designs in the gallery below:

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German architects AS&P have produced 12 conceptual designs that incorporate retractable roofs and solar power for cooling systems as well as modular designs that allow some of the stadiums to be dismantled at the end of the tournament and rebuilt in other countries.

Whether or not you agree with FIFA’s decision, it’s hard to deny that Qatar made an impressive pitch. Watch the video below to see the entire presentation, or just skip to 3:18 to see a live action rendering of Qatar’s vision for the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar Airways flight diverted after pilot dies onboard

We’ve heard of medical emergencies happening in-flight, but this brings “is there a doctor on board?” to a whole new level. USA Today is reporting that a Qatar Airways pilot died this morning on flight 645 from Manila to Doha, the Qatar Airways hub.

The flight was diverted to Malaysia, where a new crew was secured. The flight arrived in Doha just over four hours after its scheduled arrival.

The pilot’s speculated cause of death was a heart attack, but the airline has yet to confirm the cause of death or if the flight was ever at risk.

The last reported case of a pilot dying in flight happened on a Continental flight from Brussels to Newark in June of 2009.

What a terrifying ordeal. Our thoughts go out to the pilot’s family.

Qatari diplomat on United flight mistaken for shoe-bomber

A Qatari diplomat aboard a United flight from Washington D.C. to Denver last night was mistakenly suspected of trying to blow up the plane after sneaking a cigarette in the airplane’s lavatory. The man, Mohammed al Modadi, was asked about the smell of smoke coming from the restroom and joked that he was trying to light his shoes on fire, a reference to the infamous incident with shoe-bomber Richard Reid.

The U.S. air marshall on board the flight apparently did not catch the humor. Two F-16 fighter jets were scrambled and escorted the United flight into Denver approximately 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

Modadi was restrained and questioned while on board the flight; it’s unclear what criminal charges, if any, will be filed against him.

For more, check out The Atlantic‘s minute-by-minute account of the incident, which was originally falsely reported as a terrorist attack by several news outlets.

U.S. lifts ban on travelers with HIV or AIDS

For the past 22 years, if you had HIV or AIDS and weren’t American, you couldn’t enter the U.S.

That changed today as President Obama lifted the ban. Since the Obama administration is planning to host the 2012 World Aids Conference, the change in policy was necessary.

The biannual conference naturally includes many people living with HIV and AIDS, and barring their entry would have been bad PR for an administration that wants to be seen as a global leader in the fight against the disease

There are only ten countries that now ban people with HIV/AIDS from entering. They are: Brunei, China. Equatorial Guinea, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

According to the website hivtravel.org, some of these countries allow people to enter under “special circumstances”. Some other countries not on the list put restrictions on people living with HIV/AIDS but not full bans.%Gallery-13474%