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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Neverland Ranch Planned for Vegas

Rolling Stone: Cirque du Soleil have announced plans to recreate Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch at the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

In a statement yesterday, Cirque du Soleil president Daniel Lamarre said that the hotel will open a large entertainment complex in 2013 that will include a Jackson-themed lounge, interactive memorabilia museum and a theater designed to replicate the singer's famous home.

Lamarre wants the hotel to become a permanent attraction for Jackson fans around the world to celebrate the late pop icon.

This is the latest development in a growing relationship between Cirque du Soleil and the Jackson estate. The French circus troupe is set to launch its $57 million Michael Jackson, the Immortal World Tour in Montreal in October. The tour will include stops in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia and Las Vegas. In addition to Jackson's well-known hits, the show will feature a few unreleased songs that the singer finished before his death in 2009.

Porn Industry Takes On the TSA

It was inevitable. With airport screenings being the focus of so many news reports, it was only a matter of time before a porn flick was made about it. Thank you Hustler Video. Hustler is asking $39.99 for "TSA: Your Ass Is In Our Hands".  Miss USA 2003 Susie Castillo probably won't be placing an order anytime soon.

The following preview doesn't contain any explicit material, but it does bring new meaning to the phrase "flying the friendly skies".

FAA Chief Orders Management Shakeup

Washington Post: Federal Aviation Administration chief Randy Babbitt shuffled the leadership of the air traffic control system Friday, moving to revitalize a 15,475-member workforce that has been shaken by reports of controllers sleeping on the job and near-collisions in mid-air. Babbitt also named an independent panel to review the training and qualifications of new controllers.

The changes come two weeks after Babbitt forced the resignation of Hank Krakowski, head of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, and days after he vowed to make a top-to-bottom review and overhaul of operations.

“The FAA’s focus is safety,” Babbitt said. “These changes ensure that we have the right people in the right places to help us carry out our mission.” The agency’s problems come at a time when air travel appears safer than ever. There hasn’t been a major crash in almost a decade, and there have been just two fatal commuter plane crashes in the past five years.

That impressive record has been sustained at the same time that controllers — whose primary safety mission is to keep planes from colliding — saw their count of recorded errors increase by 51 percent last year. Most of those errors posed little risk, but in at least a dozen cases passenger planes narrowly missed colliding in mid-air. Trish Gilbert, executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said part of the problem is that there is massive turnover in the workforce.

“With any occupation, there are those that don’t do the job or act in a away that is appropriate,” Gilbert said in a discussion on The Washington Post’s Web site. “From 2006 to 2009, we lost one third of the workforce due to retirement when their pay was frozen. The FAA then rehired more than 7,000 new trainees, with many washing out of the program.”

She said that a third of the workforce has less than five years’ experience and that many of them are still doing on-the-job training. “We believe that the FAA has just started to take the right steps in better screening and training of the ATC candidates,” she said.

In the most recent personnel moves, Babbitt gave three FAA veterans new managerial responsibilities: Walt Cochran was given oversight for all airport towers and radar facilities; Chris Metts was put in charge of centers that direct planes when they reach cruising altitude; and Glen Martin was named manager of the Cleveland center that directs cruising-altitude planes.

7th Generation Wallenda Wows Atlantic City Crowd

'The Wheel of Death'
Morning Sentinal: A seventh-generation member of the legendary "Flying Wallendas" performed what he hopes will be a world-record continuation of the family tradition on Friday.

Nik Wallenda performed acrobatic moves in "The Wheel Of Death," a rotating steel frame that hung off the side of the Tropicana Casino and Resort's 23rd floor. Earlier in the day, he walked a high-wire inside the casino's shopping area. Both stunts were part of an upcoming television special.

In the outdoor stunt, Wallenda walked inside the wheel for eight to 10 rotations, then climbed on top of it, walked around it and even jumped rope atop it. He did part of the stunt blindfolded.

On the Boardwalk below, several hundred people cheered when he finished.

The wheel is a rotating steel frame with an 8-foot wheel at one end. He'd done the act for about 10 years, he said, but never hanging off the side of a tall building. In the morning stunt, Wallenda carried a 22-foot metal balance pole and edged out onto the high wire 45 feet in the air atop The Quarter, the casino's shopping and dining enclave, stopping for a bit above one of two enormous indoor palm trees.

He dropped to one knee, got up, then lay down on his back atop the wire _ all without a net or a safety harness as the crowd applauded. After completing the 100-foot walk _ forward and backward at times _ Wallenda stepped off the wire and pumped his first skyward to applause from those below.

Wallenda said he had noticed the casino's raised ceiling, where clouds are painted on a light blue background, giving the illusion of an outdoor neighborhood under the sky. "I saw those clouds and said, 'I've gotta walk there!'" he said afterward. "It was an amazing opportunity. I don't get to walk indoors too much."

Christina Arvanites, of Pomona, N.Y., was awed by the indoor stunt. "It was terrific, especially since I can't walk straight on the floor, let alone on a wire in the air," she said.

Chris Heisler, of Atlantic City, admitted he came to see if disaster would strike. "I wanted to see if he'd fall," Heisler said. "I watch horror films just to see people die."

Wallenda said it should be several weeks before Guinness World Records Ltd. rules on whether his outdoor stunt qualifies for the world record for performing the stunt off the side of a building.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Theme Park for Vietnam

Artist's impression of the Happyland Theme Park
Goldcoast.com: A Gold Coast company has scored a major international coup by securing the rights to design and build a $140 million Movie World look-alike that will be part of a $2 billion themed resort in Vietnam.

Sanderson Group, which cut its teeth developing Movie World on the Coast, has fleshed out plans for the Happyland theme park just outside of Ho Chi Minh City.

The project, which has lured Michael Jackson's father Joe as an investor, will house Vietnam's first film and television studios and will be home to reality-show franchises such as Idol and Next Top Model.

Happyland, being developed by wealthy Vietnamese businesswoman Madame Thao, will comprise a five-star hotel, shopping centres, exhibition centres and a 180-degree dome theatre to be built alongside two theme parks. Joe Jackson is investing in the hotel component of the attraction.

The Sanderson Group, headed by Steve Sanderson, has just completed a suite of projects in Asia over the past five years including Disney Seas in Tokyo and the Universal Studios in Singapore. It is preparing to kick off construction of the Movie World attraction at Happyland in November ahead of a 2014 opening.

Sanderson Group, whose most recent Gold Coast work was the new fitout at Ripley's Believe It or Not in Surfers Paradise, is one of the few companies in the world that can design and construct theme park projects. Sanderson employs about 400 staff, mostly in South East Asia, although it has taken with it about 30 senior managers from the Gold Coast region to its new base in Kuala Lumpur.

The company, which retains a presence at Burleigh Heads, has about $250 million of work in hand across Asia, but it is also looking to pick up more projects in Australia. "As we come out of the depressed market over the next 10 years we would like to re-establish ourselves here,'' Sanderson's project director Darren McLean said.
On Sanderson's list is Village Roadshow's proposed $80 million Wet `n' Wild park in Sydney.

The Happyland venture, backed by Madame Thao's Khang Thong Group, is tapping into a growing appetite for leisure activities among Asia's emerging middle class.

North Carolina Inmates Operate Tourism Hotline

People calling 1-800-VISIT-NC may not be fully aware of who they're talking to...
 

Wyoming Launches 2011 Tourism Campaign

KGWN: Wyoming's 2011 tourism campaign seeks to spark the emotional and spiritual impact of the state.

The state Office of Tourism hopes its new "Roam Free" ads and its "Forever West" brand will create a much broader sense of what Wyoming truly is and what the state has to offer. Tourism Director Diane Shober says the new ads were designed to bring out the wildness and beauty that still lives in Wyoming, and to encourage tourists to experience its magnificence by roaming free.

The Gillette News Record reports the state tourism campaign includes three new prints, two televised ads, online outreach programs and an interactive website featuring Wyoming road trip possibilities.

Former Miss USA Feels Violated by TSA

Miss USA 2003 Susie Castillo is accusing Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport personnel of molesting her during a pat-down search last week. Castillo, also a former MTV VJ, is now an actress. Castillo passed through DFW Airport on April 21 and opted for a pat-down search because she believes the full-body scans are dangerous.

"They are making me choose to get molested, because that's what I feel like," Castillo said in a YouTube video apparently recorded right after the search. TSA spokesman Luis Casanova says Castillo received the standard pat-down that everyone goes through, but the TSA has launched an investigation anyway because the video and stories about the search were spreading all over the Internet.

Tour Group Fined for Walking On Old Faithful

Yellowstone Insider: You can't protect idiots against themselves: Yellowstone National Park rangers issued citations Wednesday evening to members of a tour group for walking on the cone of Old Faithful.

A group of 30 or so individals were spotted by a Webcam viewer standing on the cone of the geyser, snapping photos. The Webcam viewer called the Park, and a ranger was dispatched to herd the group back to safety. Members of the group told the ranger they had not seen any of the numerous and prominent signs they walked past which warn visitors of the dangers found in thermal areas and of the requirement to stay on boardwalks and designated trails.

Yeah, right.

The tour group leader, the bus driver, and one member of the first group of four visitors who walked off the boardwalk were cited for being off trail in a thermal area, a violation of federal law with a $125 fine.

Now, it's pretty much impossible to go anyhere near a Yellowstone National Park thermal area and not see a sign warning visitors to stay on the boardwalk. Despite the many warnings, you'll find fools wandering close to geysers. And Old Faithful is a magnet: as you'll recall, in May 2009 visitors were spotted by a Webcam viewer urinating in the geyser cone. They were found guilty of a variety of charges, with one of the six fined $750, placed on three years of probation, and banned from the park for two years.

Hawaii Hotels Offer 'Birth Certificate Discount'

Aqua Hotel Molokai
Mauinow: In wake of the release recently of President Obama's birth certificate by the White House, Aqua Hotels & Resorts announced yesterday a unique 15% discount to guests who can produce their birth certificate upon arrival.

In Maui County, the Hotel Wailea Maui and Aqua Hotel Molokai are both participating in the promotion, which runs through August 4, 2011, which is also President Obama’s birthday.

“Several inquiries have been made today, emails have been received, and even some “ha ha that’s funny” comments, too,” said Kristine Kozuki, a guest services agent, at the Hotel Wailea Maui. “There’s been at least one booking so far today that I know of.” Carli Puaa, a front desk agent at the Aqua Hotel Molokai, confirmed the promotion is happening on Molokai, too, saying that “if you add the 15% discount to the standard rack rate, that a pretty good deal.”

“Your birth certificate is your instant discount card,” says Elizabeth Churchill, Aqua’s VP of Sales and Marketing. “Whether American, Honduran, Icelandic… we celebrate and invite people of all nationalities to visit Hawaii and stay in one of our hotels. As an added bonus, if you can find your birth certificate (long form or otherwise), you’ll get an even better rate.”

The promotion is good for all Aqua hotels except Hotel Lanai, according to a company statement released earlier today.

Boeing's Dreamliner Almost Called 'Global Cruiser'

Boeingblogs: A lot of you remember the contest Boeing held back in 2003 to name what was then dubbed the 7E7 airplane. Of course, the name “Dreamliner” came out on top and will forever be attached to what is now the 787. What you may not know is just how close the Dreamliner came to being called the Global Cruiser.

When we started the process of naming the new airplane, I sat through numerous “naming sessions” and workshops. I can’t remember exactly how many names we came up with—but it’s safe to say the final short list was substantially different from the original list by the time our legal and trademark teams finished their work.

At the time, many people at Boeing were pulling for the name Global Cruiser. But instead of picking a name ourselves from the final short list, we decided to hold a contest. If that contest had been held exclusively in the United States, Global Cruiser would have won.

Instead, the naming contest for the 7E7 was held online with people from more than 160 countries casting their votes. Here were the four choices:

   - Dreamliner

   - Global Cruiser

   - Stratoclimber

   - eLiner

After almost 500,000 votes were cast on newairplane.com, the Dreamliner won by a margin of only 2500. While the Global Cruiser turned out to be the name preferred by U.S. residents, the Dreamliner was by far the favorite among the rest of the world in this name game.

In addition to choosing a name, the public was also invited to join the World Design Team, a virtual community that provided input to the development of the 787.

Naming the Dreamliner was incredibly important to us. We wanted to bring back the magic when airplanes had names— not just numbers. And now, as Paul Harvey so famously said, you know the rest of the story.

10 Delta Employees Arrested for Drug Trafficking


CNN: Federal agents arrested 10 current or former Delta employees Thursday for their alleged involvement in drug trafficking at airports in Detroit and Houston, authorities said. Two others who were not airline employees also were arrested.

"Today's arrests and charges close a major vulnerability at the airport," Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton said in a statement. "We can't have people working in and around aircraft exploiting their positions for criminal ends."

The investigation -- dubbed "Operation Excess Baggage" -- began in January 2010, when Jamaican authorities seized 53 pounds of marijuana from a suitcase, the immigration and customs agency said in a statement. The luggage, tagged with a Northwest Airlines baggage tag, was bound for Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport from an airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the statement said. Delta and Northwest merged in 2008.

Authorities in Detroit later seized five suitcases containing 16 kilograms of cocaine and nearly 130 kilograms of marijuana, the statement said.

In March 2010, federal agents seized 45 more pounds of marijuana from two Delta employees at the Detroit airport, the statement said. Authorities allege those individuals were participating in a separate smuggling operation between Detroit and Houston. A Twitter post from the airline said Delta fully cooperated with federal authorities in their investigation.

"Delta does not tolerate employees found using their position for illegal activity and these employees have been suspended without pay," the post said. "Additional disciplinary action could be taken pending the final outcome of the investigation."

All 12 suspects were charged with possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute and conspiracy.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Starbucks Now America's #3 Restaurant Chain

USA Today: In a striking cultural signal of just how differently consumers are eating, Starbucks has leaped ahead of Burger King and Wendy's to become the nation's third-largest chain restaurant in domestic sales.

Starbucks now ranks behind only No. 1 McDonald's and runner-up Subway, according to research firm Technomic's just-released listing of America's top 500 restaurant chains in total 2010 U.S. sales.

For decades, the nation's top three restaurant chains were the burger and fries triumvirate: McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's. No longer. Two of 2010's top three — Subway and Starbucks — don't even sell burgers or fries.

Today, even as the coffee kingpin is expected to report stellar second-quarter earnings, it has got something else to crow about. "Starbucks keeps gaining and gaining," says Ron Paul, president of Technomic. "Carrying a Starbucks cup in your hand says something about you as a person."

One key to the recent success of Starbucks is an ongoing shift in how consumers define "healthy," says Sandra Stark, vice president of food at Starbucks. People used to think low-calorie or low-fat meant healthy food, she says. More recently, she says, that's evolved to food whose ingredients consumers understand and can pronounce. Two years ago, Starbucks was among the first chains to remove all artificial ingredients from its food.

Not that the chain doesn't have challenges. The prices it pays for coffee beans and milk have skyrocketed, forcing it to recently raise coffee prices. And the company is undertaking a massive — possibly risky — effort to evolve into a grocery store seller of much more than coffee products.

"Starbucks has become the default cup of coffee for most people," says Bryant Simon, history professor at Temple University and author of Everything but the Coffee: Learning About America.

"Starbucks has been one of the strongest growth stories in all of retail over the past 20 years," says Sharon Zackfia, analyst at William Blair & Co.

Starbucks' recent growth, however, is also due to the shared weakness of Burger King and Wendy's, says Paul. "They both need to figure out where their niche is."

Executives from Burger King and Wendy's declined to comment.

Next Target for Well-Heeled Tourists: The Moon

Space.com: Space tourism has already reached low-Earth orbit, and now the industry is shooting for the moon.

After helping to send seven private citizens on eight trips to the International Space Station -- starting with Dennis Tito, who became the world's first space tourist on April 28, 2001 -- the Virginia-based company Space Adventures is mapping out a tourist trip around the moon.

 Despite a nine-figure ticket price, the firm has already signed up a passenger for a maiden moon journey. And if it inks a second customer soon, the mission could launch within three to five years, company officials say.

"We need that second contract for the mission to go ahead," said Space Adventures president Tom Shelley. "But we're confident that we'll be able to make an announcement about that mission later this year."

Space Adventures arranges flights for its clients aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft, workhorse vehicles that have been plying the heavens since the 1960s. On the circumlunar trip, customers will travel aboard a Soyuz around the far side of the moon and back -- a journey of seven or eight days, Shelley said. The spacecraft won't land on the lunar surface, but passengers will still get an experience that has been limited so far to a few dozen astronauts with NASA's Apollo program.

"You're going to get to within 100 kilometers [62 miles] of the moon's surface, so you're going to get a really close-up view of the moon and that incredible Earthrise as well," Shelley told SPACE.com. "There are only 24 people who have seen that."

Early into this long trek, the Soyuz will meet up in low-Earth orbit with a separately launched unmanned rocket. This booster will contain a propulsion system, helping the spacecraft get all the way to the moon. The Soyuz may meet up with the rocket and head toward the moon immediately, or it may stop at the International Space Station before the rocket rendezvous, according to Shelley.

"Those are the two options," he said. "I can't say which one it would be at this stage. There are a number of factors that go into that decision."

The moon mission will be different from Space Adventures' one-tourist-at-a-time trips to the space station. The three-seat Soyuz will carry two paying passengers to the moon, with the third seat occupied by a Russian mission commander, Shelley said. And then there's the price. Space tourists reportedly paid between $20 million and $35 million to get to the station.

"It would be more, considerably more," Shelley said of the moon mission. The per-seat price would be "in the range of $150 million." One customer overcame the sticker shock and signed his name on the dotted line. That deal was sealed last year, Shelley said. The moon mission could launch within five years if passenger number two signs on soon, he added.

"It's a different destination that's pushing the boundaries a little bit further, and it should be a great event when it happens," Shelley said.

Sharp Creates 5D Room at Japan Theme Park


Sharp-World: Sharp Corporation is providing the theme park of Huis Ten Bosch Co., Ltd. (Sasebo City, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan; President & CEO: Hideo Sawada) with a multi-screen display system. Comprising a large front screen surrounded by screens on the top, bottom, left, and right, the system engulfs visitors on five sides with detailed life-like images in a new kind of image space. The attraction, called the 5D Miracle Tour, will open on April 29, 2011.

This multi-screen display system has a total of 156 units of the PN-V601 60-inch LCD monitor configured in five surfaces: a front wall, ceiling and floor (36 monitors each) and left and right walls (24 monitors each). Because of the small system frame width between neighboring monitors, visitors are surrounded by huge, seamless displays from 200 to 300-plus inches wide in front, above, below, and on both sides. An image transmission system controls all of the LCD monitors to give visitors a whole new visual experience of images that are bright, detailed, and life-like.

Bus Drivers Wanted: Men Need Not Apply


Vicente Lopez's 28 New Bus Drivers
The Telegraph: A town near Buenos Aires, wary of the screeching stops and careening turns it says typifies male drivers, has hired exclusively women to shuttle its passengers around.

“With women driving, the bus line is more family oriented, more friendly," said Rafaela Nuyl, 34, one of 28 newly hired drivers for the new bus service in Vicente Lopez.

The bus line in the town of 270,000, which has been operating since the beginning of the month, makes frequent stops at local primary schools, elder day care centres and a maternity hospital, said officials in Vicente Lopez.

They underscored the importance that drivers need to use kid-glove care when chauffeuring sometimes frail or very young passengers around the town. "As a bus line that transports children and elderly people, we wanted to have drivers who drive in a gentle manner," said Luis Fusco, the town's top transportation official.

Officials in Vicente Lopez said there is no fare to ride the bus, which was conceived as "a public service" for residents. It is relatively rare in Argentina to see any female bus drivers, let alone a town where women exclusively drive a city's buses, but Nuyl said her customers don't appear to have any objections.

"So far, I have not been on the receiving end of any macho behaviour," she told AFP.

Overstock.com Now Selling Vacation Packages


Budget Travel: Overstock is getting into the business of selling upscale vacation packages at "discounts of 30 to 40 percent off."

Case in point: A recent two-night stay at the Four Seasons in Las Vegas for $223 per person in June. That works out to $446 for a two-day stay for two adults and two children. The rooms are said to have pleasant views on a floor between 34 and 39, above the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. Airfare is not included.

Comparison shopping reveals this to be a nifty deal. Checking the same June dates on other sites for a two-night stay, I found a total after taxes on Orbitz of $768. (Expedia and Travelocity had no availability on those dates, for some reason.)

One flaw: Overstock does a terrible job of making it clear that taxes and fees are included. I contacted a spokesperson, who confirmed that quoted prices do include taxes and Overstock fees. Some properties might add a resort fee on arrival. Overstock makes you call the resort to find out about these fees.

In general, though, Overstock's discounts seem legit. I compared three other of the current packages, and saw discounts of 23 to 46 percent off what was available from other sources.

At any given time, Overstock will post about 30 or 40 domestic and international deals, refreshing the listings twice a week. It's another tool in a shopper's arsenal for splurging on hotspots in expensive destinations like Boston, Hollywood, and New York City.

Back By Popular Demand: 5@5

eTurboNews: Customers can add a shot of fun to their travel next month onboard American Airlines, American Eagle and AmericanConnection. Customers traveling on select flights are invited to enjoy cocktails, wine, beer and special Margaritaville® margaritas at a discounted price of $5 during the month of May.

"The 5@5 Happy Hour is back by popular demand – our customers loved the offering last December so much that we decided to bring it back through May to add a little fun to the beginning of the summer travel season," said Rob Friedman, American's Vice President – Marketing. "Our customers' loyalty is a top priority, and the happy hour is a small token of our appreciation for choosing American."

Through May, the 5@5 Happy Hour will be available onboard domestic, Canada, Caribbean and Mexico flights scheduled to depart between 5 p.m. and 5:59 p.m. Customers will enjoy a savings of $1 on beer and $2 on liquor and wine on select flights. Margaritaville® margaritas will also be offered all month onboard select flights for $5 in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Happy hour prices will be offered for the duration of the flight, in addition to the complimentary non-alcoholic beverages American serves onboard.

Sales onboard American Airlines, a founding member of the global oneworld® Alliance are cashless and American accepts major credit or debit cards. American Eagle and AmericanConnection accept cash only for inflight purchases.

Poor Workmanship Caused Southwest Mishap

Seattle Times: The CEO of Boeing Co. says a "workmanship issue" and not poor design led to a hole ripping open in a plane that the company built for Southwest Airlines Co.

CEO Jim McNerney said Wednesday that signs do not point to a problem affecting large numbers of the Boeing 737. A Boeing 737 operated by Southwest developed a 5-foot rip in the roof while cruising 34,000 feet above Arizona on an April 1 flight.

Federal investigators found problems with riveting work done when the plane was built 15 years ago. The National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report this week that holes drilled in the plane's skin were too big for the rivets and were not properly lined up.

Independent experts said such problems would increase stress on the plane's aluminum skin panels, leading to metal fatigue. McNerney was asked on a conference call Wednesday what the company had learned about the Southwest jet.

"The initial data that I think we're all seeing is suggesting a possible workmanship issue on an airplane rather than a design issue across a fleet of airplanes," McNerney said. He emphasized the word "an" to downplay any suggestion of a wider problem. John Goglia, an aircraft maintenance expert and former safety board member, said if the problem were confined to one plane, "that would be good news for the industry, but I don't think we can say that with confidence yet."

After the Southwest incident, Boeing told airlines to immediately inspect nearly 200 other 737s that were built with a similar design to the one that cracked open above Arizona, including about 80 owned by Southwest. Most of those inspections have been done. Southwest found five other planes with cracks, but no other airlines have discovered problems, according to Boeing and government officials.

McNerney said the findings with the Arizona jet stood out, even from other planes that also had cracks. Boeing has collected pieces of several of the planes, and McNerney said the company's own examination was continuing. The affected Southwest planes were all built from 1994 to 1996 at the same Boeing factory. Boeing says later models of the 737, starting around 2000, have a different design in which aluminum panels overlap on the roof and should not be prone to the same cracking problem.

The Federal Aviation Administration ordered that some older Boeing 737s undergo inspections every 500 flights to detect the type of cracking found in the Southwest planes. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said Wednesday that the agency isn't considering additional requirements for airlines or airplane makers right away and prefers to let the accident investigation run its course.

Initial speculation centered on the cracks coming from Southwest using its planes more frequently than other airlines. The focus of the investigation shifted recently to the manufacturing process.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Kids Ride Free on Amtrak Thru June 9

Los Angeles Times: Amtrak is celebrating its 40th year by letting kids ride free with fare-paying adults. And that's reason enough for a short side trip into U.S. rail history:

The golden age of passenger train travel peaked in the 1930s and '40s and then flagged after airplanes and cars became more popular. To pump new life into rail travel, Congress in 1970 created the private company that we know today as Amtrak, and service began a year later. Amtrak's routes stretch across the country.

The deal: This is a great way to get children excited about taking a train ride and traveling in something other than the back of an SUV. With Kids Ride Free, you get one free child's ticket (ages 2 to 15) for each adult ticket purchased. Reservations for this deal, which applies only to coach seats, must be made at least three days before traveling.

When: The offer is good for travel from Sunday through June 9, but tickets must be bought by 11:59 PDT May 6.

Tested: I went online and tested round-trip fares from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara to coincide with National Train Day (May 7). With this deal, I found a $46 fare for an adult on the Coast Starlight leaving L.A.'s Union Station at 10:15 a.m. May 6 and returning at 6:17 p.m. on May 8. The $18 children's fare was waived.

Make sure to use the "Book It Now" feature on the "Kids Ride Free" website or request the "Kids Ride Free" rate by phone). The discount won't show up if you book through the main Amtrak reservation page.

Tip: Check out Amtrak's kid-friendly Web page, known as the Kids Depot, which features games and train facts.

Contact: Amtrak Kids Ride Free, (800) 872-7245.

Air Passengers Bumped to Make Room for Fuel

AOL Travel: Two passengers were escorted off a Virgin Blue plane by police Thursday when they refused to be bumped to make room for extra fuel.

The flight from Melbourne to Bali needed extra fuel to compensate for bad weather along the route. The pilot asked for two passengers to leave the flight voluntarily. When nobody offered, the last two people to board the plane were chosen.

According to a local news source, passengers sympathized with the two men. "They had taken care to book their flights, they were ready to go to Bali and then they were told they couldn't," a passenger said.

Virgin Blue called the incident "totally regrettable," IB Traveler reports. But, the fuel needed to be doubled because of the bad weather.

This isn't the first time that passengers have been bumped to make way for fuel. Back in January, 37 passengers were kicked off an EasyJet flight to accommodate 11 tons of extra fuel.

Mexican Tourism on the Defensive

USA Today: An expanded U.S.State Department travel warning to Mexico, issued before this week's news that 183 bodies have been discovered in a northeastern border state, is generating mixed responses in tourist spots highlighted in the new alert.

The April 22 warning notes that millions of U.S. citizens visit Mexico safely each year, and says that "resort areas and tourist destinations generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and in areas along major trafficking routes." But it recommends visiting "only legitimate businesses and tourist areas during daylight hours," and says that while most victims have been Mexicans associated with criminal activity, the country's security situation "poses serious risks" for U.S. citizens as well.

The new alert includes the Gulf of California resort area known as Rocky Point, popular with Arizona tourists, and the area in Mexico around the border crossing near Nogales. It also warns of problems in areas such as Acapulco, Cuernavaca (a popular destination for American language students), Michoacan's butterfly sanctuaries and capital, Morelia, and Mazatlan, where cartel-related violence has prompted some cruise lines to stop their calls.

Friday's warning was "a major red flag" and "quite a bit more expansive" than past alerts, Kathleen Fairfax, vice president for global education at Arizona State University told CNN. She said school officials will meet this week to discuss how the new guidelines might affect study-abroad trips.

But business owners and tourism boosters in Rocky Point, where spring-break reservations are down sharply this year, say they don't understand why the destination was included since the police chief shooting mentioned in the warning happened a year ago.

Reports of violence can be overblown, adds the leader of an expatriate group in Lake Chapala, Mexico. "I felt totally safe there. We had no problem at all. You have to be mindful of what's going on, but there aren't people attacking anybody, especially expats," Denver retiree Howard Feldstein told CNN about his trip last month to a butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan, a stronghold of Mexico's La Familia cartel.

"We should not take the issue out of context," Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board, said in a recent CNN interview. "The distances are very, very great. You wouldn't stop going to New York because of a problem in Dallas."

Indiana Students Host Mock Tourism Convention

Fresh pineapple and tropical drinks help promote Hawaii tourism
NWI Times: Looking for the perfect vacation spot? Eighth-graders at Hanover Central Middle School have just the place for you.

Students in Kelly York's English classes hosted a mock U.S. Tourism Convention at the Cedar Lake school last week to share with teachers, classmates and visiting fifth-graders from Lincoln and Jane Ball elementary schools everything they had learned about the states. And they enticed their audience into visiting Sesame Place in Pennsylvania, the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Oztoberfest in Kansas.

"Students were put in groups of 3 to 5 and each group 'drafted' a state to study for three weeks," explained York, as she handed out survey forms to convention visitors. Students were instructed to study the history, government, special features, tourist attractions and historical events about their state and put together an attractive display to lure tourists. "They were also told to dress professionally or in clothing that signifies their state," said York.

Wearing a white shirt and tie, Daniel Balich, said he "had a lot of fun" learning to pitch Kansas. "They have a lot of festivals," he said. Nick Zak, whose team studied Pennsylvania, said he was surprised to learn that the name of the state was misspelled on the Liberty Bell, a big tourist attraction in Philadelphia. "Pennsylvania also has Independence Hall, Betsy Ross' house and Edgar Allen Poe's house," added Zak.

Sam Glidewell, Andrew Gomez and Jimmy Lytle served salsa and chips at their Arizona booth, and had plenty of history and tourist attractions to pitch. Gomez said tourists shouldn't worry about the stiff immigration law passed and signed by the Arizona governor, since the courts have so far blocked its implementation.

Glidewell suggested visiting Grand Canyon National Park or one of many water parks in Arizona, adding that sports fans could catch a Diamondbacks baseball game or Suns basketball game, depending on the season.

"I wanted to offer a different way for the students to learn about the states, and many have responded very well," said York.

Abandoned Theme Parks Around the World

Gadling.com: Ready to see some seriously creepy photos from abandoned theme parks around the planet? We thought so. After reflecting on the plight of Six Flags New Orleans after Katrina we got to thinking about other theme parks in similar situations around the world. As it turns out, there are a whole host of abandoned properties in similar states, some with impressively decrypt structures.

Click here to view the slideshow

“Boston Rob” Mariano to Co-Host Reality Travel Show

Entertainment Weekly: After he finishes holding court with the ladies on Survivor, Robert “Boston Rob” Mariano will turn his focus to the History Channel to co-host in his own reality show.

Together with Dennis Anderson (creator of the monster truck Gravedigger) the duo will host the upcoming series Around the World in 80 Ways, a 10-part series that’ll bow later this year. Their goal: Circumnavigate the globe using 80 different modes of travel without repeating any vehicle.

“This series captures History’s commitment to highly compelling entertainment within a historical framework,” said Dirk Hoogstra, History’s senior VP of development, in a statement. “The dynamic between our two hosts will make for great television, while viewers can journey around the world with them to explore the ingenuity of travel in every era, throughout all stages of technological advances.”

Apparently, Mariano and Anderson will “employ every conceivable means of transportation – blimp and fighter jet, ostrich and canoe, chariot and hitchhiking” to complete their trip. Mariano is a four-time Survivor contestant and a two-time competitor, along with his wife Amber Brkich, on The Amazing Race. Besides Gravedigger, Anderson has appeared on America’s Toughest Jobs and Monster Jam.

Around the World in 80 Ways is from Original Prods.

Southwest Plane Slides Off Runway in Chicago

CNN: A Southwest Airlines plane slid off a runway Tuesday during heavy rain at Chicago Midway International Airport, the airline said.

Southwest Flight 1919 had just landed en route from Denver when the Boeing 737-700 ran off the runway, the airline said in a statement posted on its Web site. There were no immediate reports of injuries, it said.

The report is the latest in a series of embarrassing incidents for Southwest Airlines, which came under scrutiny earlier this month when a ruptured fuselage ripped a hole in one of its B-737s at 34,000 feet and then again when reports surfaced that one of its planes came within 176 yards of a small aircraft.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement it was investigating Tuesday's incident. There were 134 passengers and five crew members on board at the time of the incident, the NTSB said.

"The passengers have been safely deplaned from the aircraft using air stairs and have been bused to the terminal," the airline statement said.

Here's Your Chance to "Live Like a Californian"


eTurboNews: The California Travel & Tourism Commission (CTTC) is launching an eight-week sweepstakes to encourage everyone to "Live Like a Californian," with once-in-a-lifetime prize packages that will let winners do just that. Each grand prize includes round-trip flights for four, three nights' lodging, a rental car and a destination experience themed around one of the eight Californian innovators and icons featured in the campaign.

"Travelers from all over the world seek California's lifestyle," said Caroline Beteta, CTTC president & CEO. "Our 'Live like a Californian' contest will let eight lucky winners fulfill their dreams, living like – and in some cases, meeting – the celebrities and pioneers who reflect the state's unique attitude and spirit."

The sweepstakes will also award weekly prizes, including round-trip flights, courtesy of Travelocity and $250 California-branded Visa cards. Hollywood icon Betty White; surfing legend Jack O'Neill; musician Jason Mraz, extreme skier Glen Plake and Chef Roy Choi are among those who will be featured during each successive week.

Some of the "money can't buy" experiences include:

Betty White, Hollywood – go behind-the-scenes with Betty on the set of her hit series "Hot in Cleveland."

Jason Mraz, San Diego – get the star treatment with a chauffeured ride and tickets to Jason's show, then meet him backstage!

Kevin Rafferty, Disneyland – experience the magic of Disneyland with a tour of the Imagineering studio with senior concept writer Kevin Rafferty, and then go park-hopping.

The sweepstakes will be featured on www.visitcalifornia.com/sweepstakes, which will give entrants an overview of the promotion, along with weekly prize overviews and the weekly featured grand prize. Each weekly quiz will be themed around the featured Californian and include a bio, along with four questions to be answered for bonus entries.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Passport Requirements May Get Tougher

The Consumerist: Quick — name off every address at which you've resided. Finished? Now let's hear the addresses, phone numbers and names of supervisors at every job you've ever had. And when you're finished with that, cough up your mom's address at wherever she was living a year before you were born.

Such information is included on a questionnaire the State Department is proposing tacking on to passport applications. The department estimates that only 75,000 of the millions of annual passport applicants would be required to fill it out. The 60-day period for public comment on the proposal ended Monday night.

Not to worry, though. According to a State Department estimate, the survey will only take you 45 minutes to complete. That's nice, because a failure to provide all the answers could potentially result in the application's denial.

More Airlines Turning to Twitter

USA Today: Greg Chapman of Letts, Iowa, has never been on a mountain or seen an ocean. But he knows how to tweet. To get the best view for his first West Coast trip, he tweeted Southwest Airlines Directly to ask on which side of the aircraft he should sit during the Chicago-San Diego flight in June.

Southwest referred the message to one of its tweeting pilots, who answered Chapman's questions on the public channel: Sitting on the left side would give him a nice view of downtown San Diego and the glistening Pacific Ocean as the plane lands.

"It was a pleasant surprise and informative," Chapman says. "They have more than a million followers. I wasn't really expecting a reply."

Few industries test their customers' patience like the airlines. Travelers tweet daily about delays, cancellations, lost bags and testy gate agents. And airlines respond, often quickly and often to defuse tension. Twitter gives them an illusion of real-time communication — if not always problem-solving.

Troy Thompson, a social-media analyst, says,"Twitter simply highlights customer service issues faster and more publicly than ever before."

In October, JetBlue ramped up its Twitter team to respond quickly to messages. The 17 staffers assigned to it work around the clock in shifts. Delta Air Lines, which has one of the industry's most prolific Twitter accounts, will go from nine to 12 employees who monitor its dedicated customer service channel, @DeltaAssist, 24 hours a day.

In May, Delta broke the mold with @DeltaAssist in hopes that it could serve as a complementary channel to its toll-free number and website. Other carriers are studying the model. Southwest is working to add a customer service staffer to its Twitter team to handle requests, says Christi McNeill of Southwest.

What Twitter offers most is a venue for frustrated travelers to blow off steam. "But from the response side, you're better off going to the courtesy phone," Thompson advises.

The airlines have discovered Twitter isn't a great sales tool. JetBlue has a dedicated account for selling some unsold seats, JetBlue Cheeps, but its inventory is limited to last-minute-travel tickets. Neither Delta nor American offers Twitter-only fare sales. Late last year, United abandoned its Twitter-users-only sales, called Twares, because of lackluster demand.

Although it doesn't generate sales, airline executives say, Twitter offers a chance to address a complaint that has dogged airlines for years: that they go quiet precisely when customers want to hear from them most. Twitter lets airlines get their messages out quickly, and widely

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Boeing Still Struggling with Dreamliner Production

Seattle Times: As Boeing's 787 Dreamliner program creeps toward first delivery this year, managers are intensifying efforts to smooth production. But people working on the airplanes and others familiar with the state of the program say progress is painfully slow.

While Boeing may meet its deadline to deliver the first 787 to All Nippon Airways of Japan before Sept. 30, the production pace projected for 2011 appears out of reach. Boeing executives told Wall Street analysts in January the company would deliver somewhere between a dozen and 20 Dreamliners this year.

"It isn't going to happen," said one mechanic working on the airplanes. "There are too many jobs to be done." One job taking weeks per airplane is the painstaking removal of sealant from the interior of fuel tanks in the wings, then resealing them.

Managers last week held all-hands meetings aimed at galvanizing the work force, and formed employee committees to identify and solve the major holdups. Six Dreamliners are flying flight tests, while 29 more have rolled off the assembly line and are parked on the Everett flight line or at adjacent Paine Field. Those planes await thousands of incomplete assembly jobs and modifications necessary because of design changes since they were built.

Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter conceded Monday that the rework is a difficult challenge, and she acknowledged the two specific problems raised by 787 insiders: the wing sealing and the computer data glitches. Still, she insisted, there is a "very specific airplane by airplane plan" for completing the rework. "Nothing we've seen ... is raising red flags for us," she said.

In an effort to come to grips with the extensive rework, Boeing is modifying one Dreamliner in Texas, two more inside the main Everett assembly plant, and five airplanes inside a large hangar at the south end of Paine Field leased from maintenance and repair company Aviation Technical Services (ATS).

Yet, those close to the program say production headaches continue. "The assembly process is still a mess," an engineer said. "They are building airplanes in the final-assembly process that then have to be rebuilt in the pickup process, which is many times longer." Parts that don't fit, including doors and control surfaces on the wings, still are arriving in Everett. "The wings on the 787s aren't even close to being ready," the engineer said.

The employees spoke on condition of anonymity because Boeing doesn't allow them to talk about their work.

Sorting it all out is made much more difficult because of the balky computerized system that manages all the data about specific parts. Mechanics are spending hours trying to call up parts information and drawings before performing any rework or modification. And individual jets have been reworked so often that engineers have a hard time just figuring out what is the particular configuration of parts and assemblies on a particular plane.

"Productivity has crashed," said another employee with knowledge of how the computer system is failing. "A worker spends four hours a day on the computer just trying to pull up his work."

Boeing has been hiring mechanics steadily to beef up its work force and by the summer plans to have 1,200 people working at the ATS hangar, which the work force has dubbed "Factory South."

"Boeing is throwing money and bodies at the problem," the mechanic said.

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Atlantic City's Last Hotel Casino?

Atlantic City's Revel Hotel Casino
Hotel Chatter: While Las Vegas has had its fun (somewhat) opening new casino hotels over the past few years, Atlantic City hasn't seen a new property since the opening of the Borgata's Water Tower back in 2008. But that will change when the planned Revel casino opens in mid-2012.

The Press of Atlantic City reports:

Revel is a play on the word meaning fun. The company plans to entertain its guests by stocking the resort with pools, a spa, 12 restaurants, retail shops, two nightclubs and other attractions found nowhere else in Atlantic City.

One of the most striking features will be a two-acre, landscaped outdoor deck overlooking the ocean. The so-called roofscape will include a man-made “pine grove” of more than 30,000 live trees and plants. Cabanas and fire pits will allow guests to party while soaking up the outdoor decor.

The 47-hotel room tower will have 1,090 rooms and downstairs it will be anchored by a 150,000-square-foot casino floor. However, Revel is shying away from using the word "casino" in its name.

“We are not promoting this as a casino,” Revel spokeswoman Lisa Johnson said. “It’s a lifestyle resort with a casino.

Hmm...we didn't know casino was a dirty word.

Revel will probably be the last new resort/casino to open in Atlantic City for a while. The $2.4 billion project was nearly dead in the water thanks to the mortgage crisis but new financing in February put it back on the fast track.

Still, that doesn't mean that the other casino hotels in AC can't spiff themselves up. And indeed, the Borgata is already working on a renovation of its main tower before Revel opens. Jersey Shore, Season 6 get ready!

Fine Art Reaches New Heights

USA Today: At 29,029 feet, Mount Everest is both majestic and beautiful. Its extreme challenges and inherent danger have long attracted the adventurous, the foolhardy and sometimes, both.

So what could possibly enhance the image of Earth's tallest and most iconic peak? Fine art, that's what.

At least if you ask New York artist Ranan Lurie, who is in Nepal today watching three of his acrylic canvases embark on the arduous trek up the mountain. Three Nepalese climbers, each toting a canvas, will install the panels at the top of the mountain, the first art placement ever on the peak.

The canvases comprise smaller parts of Lurie's colossal Uniting Painting, which in 2005 was displayed in the United Nation's New York headquarters. The multi-piece, multi-media art installation consisted of dozens of panels that spanned 600 feet. The work descended from the U.N. ceiling and into the visitors' lobby. It traveled at ground level into the outdoor plaza and beyond to the East River where it continued across the water to Roosevelt Island.

The artwork was removed during ongoing renovations at the U.N. building, but Lurie says it will eventually return. In the meantime, other sections of The Uniting Painting have found their way to the border between North and South Korea, where it is framed by wire. Another bit was captured on an electronic chip and blasted into space via the Space Shuttle in 2010.

Nepal was interested in the work and its placement on Everest as a way of boosting the nation's fine-arts profile, Lurie says. The three panels are encased in a protective covering to help them weather the elements. In a year or so, they'll be returned for display in Kathmandu, Nepal's capital.

Lurie refers to his painting as "a graphic philosophy." Consider it the Esperanto of fine art, he says. He'd like the concept spread to other parts of the world. In his mind's eye, the artist envisions a "belt" of Uniting paintings surrounding the globe to represent "friendship, equality and mutual respect." It would be visible from space and would signal "that we humans are good people. Unfortunately, we carry the sword of Sparta, but we also wave the olive branch of good art."

Disney World Converting Rooms to Princess-Themed Suites

Orlando Sentinel: Walt Disney World is converting some of its 25,000 hotel rooms into moderately priced, princess-themed rooms and high-end, "health-and-wellness" suites, in a bid to carve out new niches from within its existing hotels.

The overhauls are part of a directive across the Walt Disney Co.'s theme-park division to develop more specialty hotel rooms that appeal to targeted demographics. The initiative includes the company's first new hotel in Orlando in nearly a decade: Disney's Art of Animation Resort, in which more than half of the roughly 2,000 hotel rooms will be basic suites aimed at budget-conscious families.

"We are really putting significant focus and intensity and resources into driving that strategy," said Mark Rucker, vice president of lodging for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Orbitz Launches Facebook "Send" Button for Hotels

eTurboNews: Orbitz today announced the integration of the new Facebook Send button within its hotel property pages, now making it quick and easy to share hotel options with specific people or groups on Facebook or via email. Orbitz is among one of the first online travel companies to offer the new Facebook Send button to consumers.

"Orbitz is continuing its tradition of innovation by integrating with Facebook to make the search and book experience for travel more like the actual experience of travel - social, interactive and fun," said Sam Fulton, Senior Vice President, Retail, Orbitz Worldwide. "With the new Facebook Send button, travelers can easily share and solicit feedback on hotels from relevant friends or groups, which ultimately leads to making a more confident and informed choice."

The Like button lets you share worthwhile things with all of your friends. The new Facebook Send button is designed for things that you may want to share only with specific individuals or groups, but not broadly with all your friends. It allows you to send messages directly to a friend's Facebook inbox, email or to multiple friends within a Facebook Group.

Here is an example of how the Facebook Send button works on Orbitz: Travelers planning a summer getaway to Las Vegas with a group of friends can look at individual properties, hit the Facebook Send button to message or post those options to an individual or group via Facebook or send to their friend's email. Friends can then view a full description of the hotel property on Orbitz – including room rates, photos, maps and reviews -- and discuss as a group on Facebook before selecting a hotel.

For more information on the new Facebook Send button visit, http://blog.facebook.com/

Human Cannonball Killed After Net Failure

A stuntman died yesterday in the UK after his net failed during his Human Cannonball performance. The 23 year old man was fired 40 feet into the air and plunged head first into the ground when his safety net collapsed before he landed in it.

Paramedics rushed to the scene in Kent County but the stuntman, known by the stage name Max the Manx Crank, died from his injuries in the hospital. Luke Adams, 38, was at Scott Mays Daredevil Stunt Show with his young children. He said  all the tension in the safety net was lost and the supports collapsed, and Max hit the ground head first. The stadium announcer then asked for the St John ­Ambulance crew to come forward.

One woman who watched the show with her 3 year old son said she was horrified when the stuntman landed in front of where they were standing. “He was right in front of us and had blood coming from his mouth and was out cold,” she said.

Monday, April 25, 2011

New Website Spotlights Crappy Souvenirs

Mount Rushmore Oil Lamp
Writer Doug Lansky has made a career out of finding the humor in travel. His book The Titanic Awards is a fascinating collection of the best of travel gone wrong.

Now Lansky has launched CrapSouvenirs.com, a website dedicated to all the tourism-related "crap" that people tend to purchase and then later wonder why.

The site is a collection of photos submitted by readers showing the world's worst souvenirs, from a Mount Rushmore Oil Lamp (right) to a Pope John Paul II bottle opener. Many of the souvenirs are a bit risqué, which probably says a lot about the whole world of travel and tourism.

Lansky is also running a contest -- the person submitting the best photo of a crappy souvenir this year wins an iPad 2. Too bad I recently threw out my "Alcatraz Psycho Ward Outpatient" T-shirt.

Officials Propose Bike Speed Limits on Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco Chronice: The magnetic allure of the Golden Gate Bridge draws not only tourists but commuters - many of whom cross the landmark span on bikes, and are upset at a plan to slow their rides by imposing speed limits.

Bridge officials say the growing popularity of biking or walking across the bridge, a yearlong safety study and a planned four-month closure of the bicycles-only west sidewalk have convinced them of the need to slow down the cyclists.

"Our concern is safety," said Denis Mulligan, bridge general manager, citing the narrowness of the bridge sidewalks and the crowded nature of the east sidewalk, which is shared by pedestrians and bicyclists. But many cyclists complain that the speed limits are unwarranted, unwanted and would needlessly slow their commutes.

"It's a joke," said P.J. Gallagher, a recreational cyclist who lives in San Francisco and pedals the bridge regularly. "It's a solution for a problem that doesn't exist."

The bridge district this week proposed a 10 mph speed limit across the 1.7-mile bridge and approaches, with a 5 mph limit around the bridge towers and in construction and maintenance zones. The California Highway Patrol would enforce the law, issuing $100 tickets to violators.

The CHP would use speed monitoring devices, such as radar guns, to catch speeding cyclists, but cyclists say it would be difficult for most riders to know whether they're adhering to the 10 mph speed limit because most bicycles are not outfitted with speedometers.

Critics say that while safety is important, the accident rate is low and doesn't require speed limits. "This is a nonissue," said Wayne Baker, 50, who bikes across the bridge six to seven times a week from Mill Valley to his job as reservations manager at the Hilton Union Square. "That's a small number of accidents and only a fraction are related to speed."

Lew Ketcher, 68, has commuted on bike from Mill Valley to the Financial District three to four days a week for a dozen years. He estimates his average speed across the bridge at 15 mph, "which is not very fast," he said.

Several bike commuters, including Ketcher, said inattentive tourists on rental bikes pose a bigger safety problem."There are people coming right at you with a camera in one hand, looking out at the water," he said. "There are people stopping right in the middle of the path to take a picture."

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Canadians Remain Top U.S. Tourism Spenders

TVA Money: Canadian tourists were the top spenders in the U.S. for the third straight year in 2010, boosting spending by 18%, according to Visa Inc. figures.

Canadian Visa card holders spent a total of $9.2 billion last year, up from $7.8 billion in 2009, it said. The second biggest spenders on their Visa cards came from the U.K., with British tourists shelling out $2.5 billion.

"Canadian tourists continue to have a positive impact on the U.S. tourism economy,” said William Sheedy, group president, the Americas. “The strong willingness and desire of Canadians to travel across the southern border reinforces the importance of the North American tourism to the region’s economic growth.”

The bulk of the Canadian spending was through the “remaining merchant” category, which includes ATMs, money transfers and banking institutions, with a total of $1.7 billion spent.

Canadians also spent the same amount in the “other retail” category on items such as jewelry and bookstores.

Las Vegas Considers In-Room Gambling

Denver Post: As the feds are cracking down on gambling in the living room, Las Vegas casinos are trying to bring the activity to your hotel room.

Nevada lawmakers are considering a measure that would allow casino guests to gamble on operator-issued tablets and mobile devices while anywhere on the property, such as in the privacy of a hotel room or while watching a Cirque du Soleil show.

It is one example of how casinos are turning to technology to appeal to a broader set of gamblers in the wake of one of the industry's worst downturns.

MGM Resorts, which operates the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mirage and other casinos, recently launched a customer-loyalty program that uses "sophisticated predictive analytics" to determine guest rewards, room offers and comps based on the types of games they play, past purchases and other personal interests.

MGM vice president Scott Voeller said the recent downturn is a key reason the company is "on the offensive" with new offers, such as allowing gamblers to earn the option to select a daily song for the Bellagio Fountain show or work as a dolphin trainer at Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage casino. "We strategically said, 'Now it's time to invest further in our technology and in our programs,' " Voeller said.

Nevada casino revenues dropped 9.7 percent in 2008 and 10.5 percent in 2009, according to New Jersey-based industry research and consulting firm Gaming & Resort Development. Revenues were flat in 2010.

Casino operators are targeting younger, high-tech gamblers with the social media and mobile gaming programs. They want to get in on the latest gadgets," said industry consultant Bill Palermo. Younger gamblers may be more likely to play online, an activity that is in limbo in the U.S. following the FBI's recent bust of top Internet poker operators PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker.

Th casino-issued gambling tablets, which feature sports betting and table games such as Baccarat and Blackjack, already are available for play at some casinos, including the M Resort Spa Casino and the Venetian. But they're currently restricted to public areas such as restaurants and lounges.

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Legal Battle Erupts Over the Grand Canyon Skywalk

Seattle Times: Think of a Caribbean glass-bottomed boat hung out over the edge of the Grand Canyon and you have the idea behind the Skywalk, a modern, vertigo-inducing moneymaker that draws hundreds of thousands of people annually onto the Hualapai Indians' reservation to stare down beneath their feet at the distant canyon floor.

That the views are spectacular, no one would dispute. But a fierce legal battle has erupted over whether these are million-dollar views or are considerably more valuable than that.

The controversy threatens to slow the parade of tour buses, helicopters and planes that arrive daily and have put the Hualapai (pronounced WALL-uh-pie) reservation on the map.

To improve its gambit to lure more visitors from Las Vegas, the Hualapai teamed up with tour operator David Jin in 2003 to create the Skywalk, which extends 70 feet beyond the canyon rim and provides unmatched views of the floor thousands of feet below. Success, though, has brought controversy.

Canyon-side commercialism now abounds on Hualapai land. Helicopter tours begin at $129. At the fully stocked gift shop, arrows cost $20 and full-length Indian headdresses $2,000. A 90-minute horseback ride along the canyon rim costs $75. Revenues are in the millions of dollars, although exactly how much money is in dispute.

In exchange for the $30 million that Jin, who is Chinese-born and based in Las Vegas, spent to build the Skywalk, he was to get a portion of its profits over 25 years and a cut-rate price for the tourists he brings to the site from all over Asia. He accuses the Hualapai of shortchanging him and has gone to court — both the tribal court in the tribal capital of Peach Springs, Ariz., and U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

The Hualapai accuse him of not fulfilling his end of the bargain by leaving ancillary parts of the project unfinished.

In court documents, Jin says tribal "infighting and irregularities" have complicated his dealings with the Hualapai, who he says have not paid him any profits since 2008. He said the tribal tourism enterprise had gone through six chief executives since signing a deal in 2003.

Jin has gone to tribal court to try to force the Hualapai into arbitration over the sharing of profits, and he sought a temporary restraining order in federal court to prevent the Tribal Council from seizing his share of the Skywalk by using a recently passed eminent-domain ordinance.

Jin failed to win the order, but a federal judge is now overseeing the dispute. Jin has hired Troy Eid, a former U.S. attorney in Colorado, to press his interests. Hualapai leaders have Paul Charlton, a former U.S. attorney in Arizona, on their side.

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Iowa Firm Uses Dog to Sniff Out Hotel Bedbugs

Chicago Tribune: A Waterloo pest control business is hoping to sniff out bedbugs by a nose.

Aable Pest Control now has Charlie, a 2-year-old Jack Russell terrier, to help in the fight against bedbugs. The company spent $7,000 to buy Charlie from a dog training school in Kansas City, Mo., which usually trains dogs for police departments but in the past few years has trained them to detect bugs, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported.

Mike Price, who founded the company in 1981, said it was worth the investment as the bedbug problem continues to grow. "We pretty much eliminated the bedbug population back in the '50s and '60s when we had more potent insecticides available," he said.

Price said Charlie helps make it easier to find bedbugs. "If you lift the mattress and see bugs, of course you don't need a dog," he said.

He said the bugs sometimes bunch together like cockroaches but sometimes they don't. "I found one on the head of a Phillips screwdriver, and I've found one on a clothes hanger," Price said. "They can hide just about everywhere."

Charlie is particularly helpful on bigger jobs, like inspecting hotels, said Price, who also runs Terminex franchises in Dubuque, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

"Let's say it's a 90-room hotel, we'll take a dog in a third of the rooms every month," he said. "You've got to turn over mattresses and box springs and turn night stands upside down to look in cracks and things. A dog can inspect a hotel room in probably five minutes."

Since Price got Charlie, the dog has only been on a few calls and Price cautions that "it's not 100 percent." But using dogs to sniff out bedbugs is becoming more common across the country, he said.

"Dogs are becoming a big part of bedbug detection," Price said. "I had to wait three months on a waiting list to get the dog."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gas Prices Impacting Travel Plans

Holiday Inn's Classic 'Kitchen Table' Commercial