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British Airways Seeks Court Order to Block Cabin Crew Strike; Vegas Bets Economic Revival on New Complex

Aired December 16, 2009 - 14:00:00   ET


RICHARD QUEST, HOST, QUEST MEANS BUSINESS: Tonight negotiation takes a back seat to litigation in the British Airways dispute.

The devil is in the detail as the Fed prepares to make its next move on rates.

And viva Las Vegas, the city is betting an economic revival on a glittering new complex.

I'm Richard Quest, and, yes, I mean business!

Good evening. British Airways, tonight, is scrambling to avert a holiday travel catastrophe on two fronts. The airline is seeking a court order to block a strike by its cabin crew. The walkout would affect a million ticket holders over the Christmas period.

And in the last hour or so, Mrs. Justice Cox, the judge hearing the injunction application, has said that she hopes to rule tomorrow afternoon. If BA can't get a court order then maybe negotiations will stop the tracks. The airline is holding emergency talks with union leaders right now.

It is a tense time for airline, union, and most importantly for passengers.

I was at the high court in London when the case opened. It opened late there were so many people that wanted to get into the courtroom they had to shift courtrooms to a larger one.

But it is BA's day in court. BA's chief lawyer, the barrister, described the strike over 12 days of Christmas as willful and disproportionate and clearly unlawful. BA says strike balloting included staff who had -the fundamental thing is the strike ballot would include those who had accepted voluntary redundancy and therefore would not be around actually when the strike came up for grabs. So they said that was unlawful. A long, detailed litigation and a legal argument then took place.

Now, as we move across, out of court talks are taking about at the moment. British Airways, according to the union, Unite, has seen sense. What happened in those talks, we've absolutely no idea. Whether or not those talks were meaningful, whether or not they actually bridged those gaps on the dispute, is of course, is the key area. We really need to get to find out how that court case has been proceeding and what on earth is going to happen, when the judge rules in the high court.

Let's go straight away to Adrian Finighan, who is outside the high court.

Adrian, Mrs. Justice Cox says she will rule tomorrow afternoon, I believe?

ADRIAN FINIGHAN, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed, Richard. That is after the union, Unite, presents its case. We only heard the briefest outline of its case this afternoon, before it went into recess. As you know, because you were here for the start of it. Much of the afternoon was taken up with the union's counsel putting their side. We then heard some quite complex technical, legal wrangling.

Unite's (sic) counsel, as you reported, Bruce Carr, called the union's action, willful, disproportionate and clearly unlawful in choosing the 12 days to strike, over Christmas. In his opening statement he refers several times to the serious disruption that will be felt by BA's passengers and some ordinary people. He said we will find it very difficult to understand, indeed, it has to be said, that public opinion is not on the side of the union at the moment. We then went into that long complex, technical wrangling. And we heard the briefest outline from the union. Then we got the adjournment, because as you said, things started late here. Tomorrow we'll hear the union's case in full. And then, Mrs. Justice Cox says that she hopes to make her ruling.

However, it has to be said, that given that British Airways' argument is centers on about 1,000 of these staff, which it alleges took part in the strike ballot when they weren't eligible to do so, because they had applied for voluntary redundancy and would have been off the staff payroll.


QUEST: Oh. Well, there we are. And I can finish that sentence off for Adrian. We seem to have lost him, as you can tell from that. He has had, obviously, some sort of power failure.

And what he probably was going to tell us was, considering it is only 1,000 votes that were in play, and the majority of course, was much greater than that, 92.5 percent of the union. Well, it wouldn't have made any difference. Therefore, there has been no significant material problem and the injunction should be refused.

Talks outside of the court resumed. We don't know what progress was made. I asked Tony Woodley the joint head of the cabin crews' union, earlier in the day, before he went to those talks, what there was to talk about.


TONY WOODLEY, JOINT GENERAL SECRETARY, UNITE: There is only one side that rarely wants to talk and it isn't British Airways. British Airways have imposed major changes to our peoples' wages and conditions, not small changes, as Mr. Walsh said. And as far as they're concerned they are not there to negotiate at all. But we have a responsibility to the traveling public and to our members to not have this strike unless it is absolutely necessary.

QUEST: Willie Walsh says that the union's response is out of all proportion to the relatively small changes that they imposed upon the cabin crew.

WOODLEY: Well, if these are relatively small changes, then why did Mr. Walsh, having been made an offer last Friday, and I'm making it today. We want to pause for peace, suspend these small changes and we will stop the strike.

QUEST: What about the accusation that a lot of your members that did vote for the strike they were voting for industrial action, but they were not voting for such dramatic action. They had no real idea of the extent and scale that it was going to be.

WOODLEY: Look, our members' decision to take 12 days of action, was taken by our local leadership and that is the democracy of it. The important thing is that our members don't want a strike at all here. Our members offered this company 53 million pounds worth of cost down. Our members offered to take a 2.5 percent wage cut. Why is Mr. Welsh, cynically using this time of the year to impose changes knowing the reaction it gets?

QUEST: Even allowing, if that was the case, humor me for the second. Allowing for your argument to be accepted, does that justify the union calling 12 days of industrial action over Christmas? A million Christmases ruined, as Mr. Walsh put it.

WOODLEY: Well, Mr. Walsh doesn't have to say any Christmases ruined, because the offer that I have made, and the offer that I am making today is suspend the imposition, and the strike is off.

QUEST: Is it right to strike at this particular time of the year for so long, that is going to be so damaging?

WOODLEY: Our members who decided on this action, their representatives, believe that this strike for 12 days, needs to be that long to concentrate British Airways' minds, that this isn't a run of the mill issue. It is not small issues. It is very, very serious. And if this strike runs for 12 days -- and I sincerely hope it doesn't -it is likely to run on a damn sight longer. And that is not in the company's interests, and it is not in our member's interests, or the traveling public interests.

QUEST: You are aware that a long, protracted strike could be the end for British Airways?

WOODLEY: I'm very conscious of this company's position. We are not idiots and we are not Luddites, and neither are our members here. What is happening is created by an imposition and a desperation to convince this company, you can't impose, you have got to negotiate. And that is why the final message is very clear to British Airways. It was clear on Friday before the result. And it is clear, today, this Wednesday, suspend, suspend your imposition, the strike is off.


QUEST: Now, you may well be wondering, why are we giving so much time to the British Airways dispute? Well, for one simple reason, a million passengers around the world face disruption, and the network that British Airways has, from Asia, through Europe, to the United States and the Americas, caught in such great inconvenience. The disruption is being dealt a double whammy. Tonight baggage handlers and check in staff at both Heathrow and Aberdeen airports have joined colleagues on another set of parallel strikes. Morgan Neill caught up with one very worried ticket holder, for whom much more than holiday hangs in the balance.


MORGAN NEILL, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): John Brown says he's heard the airlines position and he's heard the union's position. But he doesn't believe they are listening to him, the customer.

JOHN BROWN, BRITISH AIRWAYS CUSTOMER: We're paid up. We paid our tickets, we paid our airfare. We are the consumers, at the end of the day. We are the customers. And we are the last people to be considered in all of this. There seems to be absolutely zero consideration for our situation, and for the situation of however thousands of other people.

NEILL: John and his mother, Gulbin, are hoping to fly British Airways to see their family in Istanbul for the holidays. Gulbin says this year is particularly important because her mother is sick with cancer and may not have much longer to live.

GULBIN BROWN, BRITISH AIRWAYS CUSTOMER: She is extremely attached John, her grandson, and she keeps ringing me every week, asking when you coming over?

NEILL: But with cabin crew threatening a 12-day strike, starting December 22, the Brown's plans, like those of anyone else holding a BA ticket for the holidays, have been thrown into chaos.

That is something 24-year-old Robert knows all too well. He's planning to fly with his parents to Mexico on Christmas Day, to get married. We have our wedding booked, everything is paid for, and the 25th is the only date that we can travel. Really, anything later, we loose the wedding. And of course, earlier isn't an option, because it is so soon now. And we run the risk of loosing everything.

NEILL: For passengers like Robert and the Browns, BA's offer to change their flights to a different date is essentially worthless.

(On camera): But what really adds insult to injury, according to everyone we have talked to, is the timing of this threatened strike. The holidays, they say, are the only time of year many families can get together. And now they are worried they miss out on that.

(voice over): While John and his mother wait to see if the strike will go ahead, they say the only alternative flights they found cost seven times what they paid for their original tickets. They both blame the cabin crews union for the mess they are in. But John adds he definitely won't be flying British Airways again. Morgan Neill, CNN, London.


QUEST: Now in just a moment I'll be joined by a man who argues that going green is good for your business.

And you can see the anger and violence that is erupting in Copenhagen. Perhaps not surprising, the climate change is in its final days. This is the moment traditionally when you do the deal.


QUEST: Welcome back. QUEST MEANS BUSINESS, midweek edition. You are up to date with the business world. Fionnuala Sweeney now is at the CNN London News Desk.


QUEST: Now let's turn to the climate summit in Copenhagen. And we have been seeing clashed both inside and outside the conference all in Copenhagen. Perhaps not surprising as this summit moves into the final hours.

On the streets Danish police use pepper spray and dogs to make around 250 arrests. The demonstrators were attempting to disrupt the talks as the negotiations enter the final stages. Of course, world leaders, including President Obama, will be arriving.

Now, to bring you up to date on some other matters. Inside the hall, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez echoes the protestors saying that if the climate was a bank it would have been bailed out by now. The talks have so far been marred by disagreements. We can cut it many which ways and backwards. One of the disagreements of course, between China and the United States; a second range of disagreements between the developed and the developing world. And even within there, of course, the exact wording and phraseology of any final text.

It is a lack of progress ahead of Friday's final meeting that is frustrating many of the smaller countries who see themselves as being shut out, but at the same time, worried that some other agreement will be done at the last moment, which will of course be to their disadvantage.

Osvald Bjelland is the chairman and founder of Xynteo, a firm that helps companies achieve low carbon growth. He joins me now.

It is quite usual, isn't it, in any negotiation, that you only get your best offers and your final movements at the last minute?

OSVALD BJELLAND, FOUNDER, CHAIRMAN, XYNTEO: Well, I think, in Copenhagen the main thing is a very positive meeting, because the people outside the meeting, or inside the meeting room, have a common interest. And that is to really try to move as fast as possible to allow carbon economy. So, I think there could be things coming on the table in the last minute.

QUEST: But it is the last minute when these things traditionally happen.

BJELLAND: Well, it seems that this is what we can expect this time. If there is to be a deal at all.

QUEST: Right. Now, when you are advising companies how to move into a low-carbon environment, what is the crucial thing that you have to tell them to do?

BJELLAND: Well, I think there are three overall questions that they need to ask themselves. One is what is happening outside their company, what are the new regulations and what are competitors doing? Secondly, is obviously, what are your strategic options? And thirdly how do you build a company that can be competitive in this new environment?

QUEST: Is it difficult to go from the philosophical, you can sit around boardroom 'til you are blue in the face, but at some point you have got to do a deal and you have got to buy a piece of kit (ph) and you have got to actually do something real.

BJELLAND: That is so true. And that is, obviously, the big step that makes such a difference. Let me perhaps share with you a practical example.

QUEST: Please.

BJELLAND: I'm thinking of the Norwegian shipping company, Will Williamson, 150 year old company. And they have now 167 ships. They have been looking at how do you optimize this shipping fleet in order to reduce your carbon footprint significantly? They have identified a target of 30 percent and they have already achieved 10 percent. So this is like a very practical step. If you look at another practical step, the same company had negotiated with their customers to go on lower sulfur fuel and improve their competitiveness.

QUEST: Why are CEOs doing this? Is it because it makes business sense? Because at the end of the day, you advise them on low-carbon methods, but they could just as easily go for the carbon trading mechanisms, until it is too expensive.

BJELLAND: Well, I think that when carbon gets more expensive that will accelerate the whole process of course. But it seems that there are two or three very important reasons for doing something right now. One is the shipping example I mentioned. It is a way to lower you costs right now. Number two is, many customers are looking at your supply chain and see if you can help them to lower the carbon footprint in their whole business operation. And thirdly, I think that many are preparing for future regulations.

QUEST: The core question, and it has to be a yes or a no. Will they reach agreement in Copenhagen?

BJELLAND: I would say, as they say in Russia, we will see.


QUEST: Thank you very much indeed.

BJELLAND: It's a pleasure.

QUEST: Thank you very much indeed.

BJELLAND: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

QUEST: Stay where you are now.

Now, in a moment we will bring you the latest decision on interest rates from the U.S. Federal Reserve. Things might not look like they are changing but if you are a Fed watcher, it is the statement, it is the devil in the details. Maggie Lake will help us understand in a moment.


QUEST: Market in New York is open and this is how it is trading at the moment. Oh, my word that was fast. The Dow Jones industrials -well, all that movement for a mere six points, barely unchanged. Actually, of course, I've just realized since the index is at 10,000 if we are going to have plus 6, that will obviously correspond to a plus .06 or .07, I've only just realized that. Mathematicians amongst you will be wondering why I'm so slow, only to have just noticed it. It is quite interesting to watch.

Look, he's the man of the year, the man of the hour, Ben Bernanke, the U.S. Federal Reserve have just released their latest policy statement in 2009. Maggie Lake is in New York.

Maggie Lake joins me now -Maggie.

MAGGIE LAKE, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Richard, as expected no change in interest rates. The Fed sounding a little bit more upbeat about the U.S. economy and I put the emphasis on a little bit. Saying that economic activity has continued to pick up, and the deterioration in the labor market is abating, but they go on to list a bunch of headwinds and say that any kind of recovery is going to be gradual.

And very importantly, indicating that inflation is going to be subdued, so that the Fed is vowing to keep those rates at exceptionally low levels for an extended period. That was really the phrase that everyone was waiting to see whether they were going to include, and indeed they did.

A little bit of information coming out about some of these exceptional liquidity programs that they had in place to try to sort of flood the system with liquidity. The fact that some of them will be expiring as forecast February 1st 2010, I believe the date put out there. So it is quite a lengthy statement I have here. And there are some specific details on that. But for the general forecast, the Fed pretty much sticking by what it has been saying. Things are getting better. It is slow. We are going to keep our foot on the gas until we are absolutely sure that we are out of the woods.

QUEST: Maggie, I was wondering if were (UNINTELLIGIBLE) like Madeline Albright used to do with her broaches and jewelry, whether you were telegraphing something. You have a nice sunny broach that you are wearing today. Did the thing - you know, the weather may be cold, but the economy is getting warmer.


LAKE: Richard, you have been mentioning it so much, I thought of you this morning. Unfortunately, not telegraphing anyone. And Ben Bernanke not giving anyone any surprises, which you would think it would be a good thing for Wall Street. The markets seeming a little bit disappointed in this. It did back off. But really we are very range bound, right here. This didn't provide any catalyst for the bulls, but it certainly didn't throw and surprises at the market. Anything to have a major sell off. You can believe, as we always say, it takes a while to filter through some of these very complicated details, so traders doing that now. We'll see if there is any bigger reaction a little bit later in the day.

QUEST: Thank you, Maggie Lake, who is in New York.

The Fed boss Ben Bernanke is the person of the year. That is according to "TIME" magazine. The 56-year-old chairman is one of the most powerful people on the planet. Controlling the committee and the money supply and setting the interest rates of the United States. Earlier the editor of "TIME" magazine, Michael Elliott, told us why Bernanke was the man of choice.


MICHAEL ELLIOTT, EDITOR, TIME INTERNATIONAL: The economy was really the huge story this year, throughout the world, and Ben Bernanke is the most significant figure in taking economic decisions for by far the most important economy in the world, the U.S. Because he showed great determination, great creativity, to take a series of decisions, which in our view, had the consequence of making recovery more likely and making the recession less deep.


QUEST: Michael Elliott of "TIME" magazine. Mr. Bernanke's competition which included the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, and the first female speaker in Congress, Nancy Pelosi.

Winning back hearts, minds and money, it is a difficult task as Greece's finance minister goes on a mission to calm the markets. We are going to talk to him in just a moment.


QUEST: Good evening.


This is CNN.

In Greece, stock prices closed higher on the midweek session. The Athens main index ended nearly 2.5 percent up, as the country battles to avert a looming budget crisis. The government has raised nearly $3 billion in a debt sale. It wasn't by an auction, it was by a private sale. The finance minister has pledged to do whatever it takes to cut the budget deficit, which is heading for nearly 13 percent of GDP.

The spread that they had to pay on the debt is still several hundred basis points higher over, say, for example, German Bund. But that would be expected, bearing in mind the deficit's relative position.

On the line now, the Greek finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, who is visiting London.

Minister, first of all, congratulations in getting your -- your private sale of debt away.

And do you believe that the -- the markets are now giving you and the prime minister the credibility that you've been seeking?

GEORGE PAPACONSTANTINOU, GREEK FINANCE MINISTER: Well, I certainly hope that they will be beginning to -- to give us exactly that credibility. This is the message that we've been getting from investors all day today in London. It's a question of listening to us, listening to the initiatives that we're taking, realizing that we are absolutely dead serious about reducing the deficit and -- and tackling the huge debt that we have, that we have taken and we are taking the measures to reduce expenditures.

And I think at the -- in the -- in the coming weeks and months, this will become much clearer to markets that...


PAPACONSTANTINOU: ...that this government does mean business.

QUEST: Now -- now, you said -- you said that, in many ways the measures you're taking and you've put forward are stronger and stricter than those introduced by Ireland, a reference, of course, to the fact that you are going to raise taxes and cut spending.

But I'm wondering, what is going to be the position in terms of the macro economy of -- of this multiple withdrawal, if you like, of accommodation -- higher taxes, reduction in spending, coupled with a mag -- a really tremendous reduction in deficit?

PAPACONSTANTINOU: Well, we're still hoping for a -- a modest recovery next year with the realty to be falling only 0.3 percent rather than 1 point something, which is 2009. And we are helping it along by, for example, increasing public investment to also be able to absorb and use structural funds.

We think that this is completely consistent with a view of reallocating expenditure where it matters. We've cut down the fat and we are reallocating expenditures where we can help the economy keep growing.

QUEST: Minister, many thanks.

Please, as always, a standing invitation. I hope we can talk to you again.


QUEST: Come and join me in the studio and we can get to grips with these issues again.

Many thanks, indeed.

Now, we pause for a moment while I bring you some sad news that is now confirmed by CNN -- news just into us. Roy Disney -- now there's -- you don't need to know much more -- the -- the nephew of Walt Disney, has died. He was -- had a bout of stomach cancer, according to a Walt Disney Company spokesman.

Some other details to tell you. Mr. Disney was 79. His father, Roy Disney, and his uncle, Walt Disney, of course, founded the Disney Company in the 1920s and there you -- Roy Disney, age 79, died.

Now, turning back to our economic agenda and there was encouraging news from the U.K. on the job front. Unemployment and the jobless recovery has been the most difficult part of this recession and recovery so far. The number of people claiming unemployment benefits in the UK, there was a surprise drop in claims for the first time in almost two years.

Now, some of that drop may well be accounted for, as in the United States, by people who have suddenly decided either they've fallen out of the system or they're no longer looking for work and are not eligible. But at least it sort of clarifies the -- the -- you always look at the claimant -- the claimant numbers and the absolute jobless total.

So there has been this, but it's probably too early to put much more credit to it than that. Unemployment claims fell by more than 6,000. It's the first fall since February, 2008. And showing the intricacy that you do get in jobless numbers, not only definitions, but also the discrepancy between claims and absolute jobless totals, you end up with a jobless rate of 7.9 percent. It edged up by the smallest amount. Overall, two-and-a- half million people are not out of work.

However, an idea that that jobless rate will get to 10 percent, which had been feared, is now starting to recede and maybe not come to fruition. You'll be aware, of course, the United States has a current jobless rate of just some 10 percent.

Those numbers on the European stock markets, there were some solid gains that were seen. A strong day for financial stocks in London. The big insurers added value. Shares in Barclays added some weight. Well, look, my Barclays shares are trading up. If you'll remember, I bought several hundred of them at the be -- the worst point of the recession.

In Frankfurt, the -- the Deutsche Bank and Commerce Bank topped the board. Parivar (ph) and Societe also made gains in Paris. And Credit Suisse was a gainer in Zurich.

A decade long legal battle between the European Union and Microsoft has now been resolved. The European Union is dropping it's anti-trust charges against Microsoft. Microsoft has agreed it's going to give Windows users a choice of up to a dozen other Web browsers. They're calling it a browser ballot. Now, the browser battle pops up a screen. It lets people replace Microsoft's Explorer or add another browser, such as Mozilo's Firefox or Google's Chrome.

You can have, apparently, as many browsers as you like. Microsoft already had been fined more than $2 billion by the European anti-trust regulator for virus violations -- $2 billion has been paid over the last 10 years by Microsoft.

The chip maker Intel is facing opposite fortunes. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced Wednesday it's suing the company for deliberately stifling competition. It's already paid more than a billion dollars to both rival chipmaker AMD and the European Union -- we really must find out what the E.U. is doing with all this money -- to settle previous cases. The allegations expand on previous suits, accused of illegal tactics for the market of graphics processing units.

One of those cases is related to a different sort of chip. Intel denied the allegations and described the case as misguided.

I promise you, by Friday, I will have found out where all that money from these finds goes.

How much you win, how much you lose in a place where it's all about money. The bets are on the enormous glass towers to change the city's fortunes.

We're in Las Vegas, right after the break.


QUEST: Welcome back.

In just a moment, we're hoping to talk to Las Vegas, where they are opening a major new City Center. But it's worth us comparing Las Vegas with the only other place in China were gambling is legal. Now in both places, there have been problems in the economy. But now China is seeing a big boom in its overall economic growth.

Eunice Yoon reports on gambling on and in Macau.


EUNICE YOON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Workers in Macau are preparing for construction to pick up in this gambling town. One of the city's biggest employers, casino giant Las Vegas Sands, had put most projects on hold after the credit crisis forced the American company to the brink of collapse.

But now, Sans chairman, Sheldon Adelson, says his company and its ambitious plans for Macau are back.

SHELDON ADELSON, LAS VEGAS SANDS: Upwards and onwards, or onwards and upwards.

YOON (on camera): Adelson is a major player in Macau. His vision has been to turn this piece of land, called the Cotai, into the Chinese version of the Las Vegas Strip. And now that he's raised billions of dollars in the stock market, he's one step closer to turning this place into the sin city of the East.

(voice-over): Macau has been racing to transform itself into a gaming Mecca. The cityscape is nearly unrecognizable 10 years after the former Portuguese enclave returned to Chinese rule.

DAVID GREEN, GAMING CONSULTANT: Oh, I think the price of the development has been the most extraordinary percent of it. Macau has really achieved in five years what the Las Vegas has taken 20 years. The proximity to China is really 99 percent of it.

YOON (voice-over): Macau is the only place in China where casino gambling is legal. Gaming revenues here outpace the Las Vegas, fueling economic growth in the double digits until the financial crisis put on the brakes.

Now, analysts see the economy moving ahead. Visitor numbers are recovering, lifted, in part, by easy credit in China. In addition, eager investors are helping casino companies replenish their cash.

The Wynd banked over $1.5 billion in a Hong Kong IPO. The Sands raised $2.5 billion.

ADELSON: You know, a number of people have asked me that, how does it feel to come back from the depths?

And I say, listen, only you guys thought it was the depths, not me.

YOON: But analysts say they're not above water just yet. Many say the crisis showed the economy here is too reliant on gaming and subject to the vagaries of investors still jittery in the wake of the Dubai debt crisis.

The Sands had hoped to raise more money.

GREEN: We had confidence people won't be inclined to take risks. If they don't take risks, they won't invest in multi-billion dollar projects, particularly if there are issues about the potential returns.

YOON: Adelson's confidence in Macau hasn't abated.

ADELSON: We'll have 20,000 rooms, which is only one seventh the size of Las Vegas, but for 10 years, it's going to be absorbed. There will be sufficient demand and there will be sufficient critical mass to convert a city of gambling dens into a city of integrated resorts.

YOON: A stunning transformation for this once sleepy outpost for Portuguese traders.

Eunice Yoon, CNN, Macau.


QUEST: Now, whenever we talk about gambling, we always, perhaps, think that Las Vegas has been one of the most hardest hit areas in the world.

So why is the city taking on its biggest bet yet?

A gamble on the future -- it's the city known for casinos, of course, (INAUDIBLE) and resorts. MGM and Dubai World are now taking a major punt on a -- the come back for the city. It's called City Center. It is a vast, 67-acre operation and -- and construction site and hotels and resorts.

Dan Simon joins us now from Las Vegas.

This -- I mean I suppose the truth is that they wouldn't have started building it if they had known how bad things were going to get.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're probably right there. But, you know, here there are, five years later, and they're ready to open up City Center. And here they are.

We are in the ARIA Hotel and Casino. Let me just give you -- sort of set the stage of where we are, Richard.

This is the -- obviously, the casino. It's empty. They hope this is the last time they see this casino empty. But, really what the developers had in mind when they came up with City Center is to do something that had never been done before in Las Vegas.

And when you think about all of the properties in Las Vegas, everything that's ever been built here, this dwarfs all of them by comparison. And this is no exaggeration -- they are hoping -- they are hoping that people come to Las Vegas to see this grand City Center, like people would fly to Paris to go see The Louvre.

But obviously, there are some strong economic headwinds here in Las Vegas. They've seen 22 straight months of declining gaming revenues. They've got a 13 percent unemployment rate here. And Las Vegas leads the nation -- it leads the United States in foreclosures.

So from that point of view, however, they're hoping that this is just a major economic stimulus to the city. And keep in mind, they hired 12,000 people to work here, Richard. So now a lot of people have some new jobs.

QUEST: One -- one -- one quick question, though. You've obviously been to Vegas on more than one occasion, by the sound of your inexperience.

What do you think of it?

I mean the -- the City Center, not Vegas.

SIMON: Well, well -- well, I will tell you this, it is objectively spectacular. There's no question about that. You're talking about six towers. The art is really magnificent. There are sculptures everywhere. I mean they spent millions and millions of dollars on their art work.

Now, so regardless of your taste, it is a spectacle. Now, whether or not it's going to entice people to come, that's another question. Because, keep in mind, here in Las Vegas, they're having such a difficult time filling the hotel rooms as it is. They've had to basically slash rates by 25 percent.

You can now stay at a -- an exclusive resort here in Las Vegas for under $150 a night. And the starting rates here at City Center are competitive. They're -- they're about the same. So -- and what -- what that -- what that's forced other resorts to do is to lower their own rates.

So it's going to be tough for -- for other resorts to remain profitable in the wake of these declining rates -- Richard.

QUEST: Great stuff.

Many thanks, Dan Simon with an assessment on City Center in Vegas.

As I was standing outside the high court wearing me fedora hat earlier, the one thing I noticed most of all -- well, you couldn't help but notice it -- it was snowing -- the first I've seen in this part of winter.

Guillermo is at the World Weather Center.

GUILLERMO ARDUINO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And I think that you're getting more, probably on Saturday. Originally, we thought Friday we were going to get more snow and heavy snow showers in London. Now, Richard, we think that it's going to switch a little bit into Saturday.

The air -- the conditions are perfect for that. But France is in much worse shape, because this low -- and. You're going to see it on the next map very clearly -- this low is going to be bringing here even 10 centimeters of snow -- of snow or more.

Now, the east is not out of the woods. Romania has been hit hard with snow. And this low is going to come from down here, turn northward and bring snow into Romania, into Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

So look at this. Yesterday I was showing you. This is the next two days. Of course, the white represents snow in the north. We're going to get some. Look what's going on here in the south. When the -- the front comes here is when we get the rain. And I think that is -- the snow, sorry.

And I think that is Saturday. So we may see sleet on Friday. And now we're going to see rain.

Actually, I was checking out London Heathrow, raining right now. And, of course, when you get to Gatwick or Heathrow Airports outside the city, in the greater areas of London, it's where. You're going to see more snow than in the city. But you still have the chance.

Look at France -- a lot. We are into the purple colors, which means that we are going to see more than 10 centimeters.

Look at the west -- the east, though. Moldova, as I was saying, Romania, Ukraine, much worse. We're talking about 25 centimeters or even more -- half a meter of snow.

And Europe in all, this is the -- the white perspective. Whereabouts in Asturias, Leone, Valencia, Borgo, Alava in Northern Spain, the Cantabrian Mountains here are going to get snow. The Alpine Region, of course, here, into Piedimonte, Torino, into Milano, all the way down in Toscana and Liguria, we may see snow. And temperatures along with that.

And now I have to say, Richard, you're lucky, because the -- the big change is not coming there temperature wise. It's in the central parts of Europe.

So this is what we're going to see tomorrow, Thursday -- minus two in Berlin as the high; minus five in Stockholm; Copenhagen and many areas of Denmark reporting snow. Gotland here, this island in Sweden, reporting or having warnings because of the snow.

It is here to stay. It is going nowhere. We're going to see if we get some in Christmas. The possibility is there.

Stay with us.

After the break, more QUEST MEANS BUSINESS.



QUEST: I always get the urge -- I always get the urge to conduct the wonderful Bach Choral Choir very often.

Anyway, back to our festive World At Work. And you'll remember, of course, we are following the 12 Days of Christmas. We are up to the seventh day and what my true love gave to me, what would London's royal parks be -- because, remember, the seventh day is...

(singing) Seven swans a swimming.

So, as a part of our festive World At Work, I spent the morning feeding the birds at Kensington Gardens and learned what it takes to keep these resident population happy.


MALCOLM KERR, WILDLIFE OFFICER, THE ROYAL PARKS: My grandfather was a game keeper and my father before me worked for The Royal Parks, as well. So it's all in the family, really. (INAUDIBLE) has always been there.


QUEST: Oh, whoa. Good lord. Oh. Go away now.

KERR: I started in the parks in 1968, straight from school, basically. The way I look at swans is not the way you would look at a swan. I'm looking for problems with a swan -- if he's got an injury or he's got a swollen foot. So all them sort of things I look for every single day.


QUEST: Does that hurt?


QUEST: Right.

KERR: It feels like someone pinching you, really. You see they want some.

QUEST: I see.

KERR: And this is Lassie and Juncture, which is this one here.


KERR: Which is -- and it takes three years before he comes white -- completely white. The reason the swans are in the parks is food more than anything. And it's one ways going back to the same place. And they learn it and they teach the youngsters where to go and it's an -- and it goes through their actual genes.

QUEST: What -- why do you think it is that we like the swan?

KERR: I think that it's a very elegant looking bird and it's -- and it's always in the mind of royalty.

And this is a starling that's come to see me.

QUEST: Do you ever talk to them?

KERR: Not really, no.

QUEST: You never talk to them?

KERR: I never talk to the birds. They never talk to me back.


QUEST: Where do they sleep?

KERR: They sleep on the bank where you see them here. They'll all sleep together. And it's protections in numbers. They always put their backs to the wind. And they always pair for life, unless one of them dies, then they find another partner. They stay in the pairs all the year round, yes. There's a male who's in the front and the female is behind.

And you see this guy here now?

He's starting to chase the other pair off, protecting his female. You see him getting rather aggressive, putting his wings up to make himself look a lot bigger.

There are so many differences and there's so much interest in them. Every day is different. You never have a boring day with wildlife. There's always something that changes.

QUEST: Here at Kensington Gardens, they've got 63 resident swans a swimming. That's nine times the number we need for this festive World At Work.


QUEST: A Profitable Moment after the break.


QUEST: A real Profitable Moment.

I was just thinking, are these World At Works fascinating?

The professions, the jobs that people have done all their lives and that we now get a glimpse into their thinking -- magnificent. And we've still got dancers dancing, pipers piping, drummers drumming.

On our Facebook page, you can have a guess -- how do you think we're going to do maids a milking?

There aren't many of those around these days.

But that is QUEST MEANS BUSINESS for this midweek edition.

I'm Richard Quest.

Our Facebook page is questmeansbusiness.

Whatever you're up to in the hours ahead, I hope it's profitable.

Christiane is after the headlines.