Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Another Allegation of Sexual Assault at a NYC Hotel

Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar in police custody
NBC New York: The hotel where an Egyptian businessman allegedly sexually abused a maid says it is purchasing panic devices for its room attendants.

The Pierre Hotel said Tuesday that it will acquire "emergency communication devices" after the incident Sunday, which came two weeks after a maid at the Sofitel said she was sexually assaulted by French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

The alleged assaults have called attention to what some say is a re-occurring problem for maids in hotels. Peter Ward, president of the New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council, said the Sofitel has also committed to the devices; the hotel did not immediately comment. The union says it is researching what type of device to use and will recommend to the hotels.

In the latest case, police said Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar, 74, called housekeeping at The Pierre to bring him tissues at around 6 p.m. on Sunday. Law enforcement officials tell NBC New York that when the maid arrived at room 1027 with three boxes of tissues, Omar answered the door wearing a "silk-type" garment and asked her to place them on a table near the bed.
According to law enforcement officials, Omar then grabbed the maid in a bear hug and began to kiss and fondle her, grabbing her breasts and rubbing against her. She resisted and said "I'm not here for this," officials said. He then locked the door to prevent her from leaving, before asking for her phone number, according to officials. When she gave him a number, police said, he let her out of the room.
Omar faces charges of sexual abuse, unlawful imprisonment, forcible touching, and harassment.
There was no immediate information on whether Omar had an attorney. He was held Monday night at a police precinct and transferred Tuesday morning to a booking facility near a Manhattan courthouse.
Omar is currently the board chairman of the El-Mex Salines Co., a state-run salt production company, according to the company's website. It is the largest salt producer in Egypt and the Middle East, the website said. Company officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Omar is the former chairman of Egypt's Bank of Alexandria. He also served as board chairman of the Egyptian American Bank and chairman of the Federation of Egyptian Banks, according to his biography on the company's website. The Pierre said it will "fully comply with the investigation,'' according to a statement. "The Pierre's priority is the safety of our guests and staff,'' the statement also said.

The Pierre is owned by Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces of India.

Comcast Plans to Fully Own Universal Theme Parks

Orlando Sentinel: Comcast Corp. has decided to buy The Blackstone Group's half of Universal Orlando, two people familiar with the plan said Tuesday. The move will give the Philadelphia-based cable giant full control over NBCUniversal's biggest and most profitable theme park, which has been experiencing record crowds since opening the Wizarding World of Harry Potter last summer.

The pending deal was first reported by TheWrap.com, a news website covering the entertainment industry. Comcast is expected to pay between $1 billion and $1.5 billion for Blackstone's stake in Universal Orlando, TheWrap.com reported, citing an unidentified source with knowledge of the detail. Universal generated $267 million in operating profit last year.

Representatives for Comcast, Blackstone, NBCUniversal and Universal Orlando all declined to comment Tuesday. The people familiar with the pending sale who spoke with the Sentinel did so only on the condition that they not be identified because they were not authorized by any of the parties to discuss the deal publicly.
Blackstone formally offered to sell its Universal Orlando stake to Comcast in March, weeks after the cable company completed a $13 billion acquisition of NBCUniversal from General Electric Co.

Comcast has until June 12 to buy out Blackstone or the private-equity firm will be free to solicit third-party bids for the entire resort. Comcast would be compelled to sell if Blackstone were able to find a rich enough bid. Comcast executives have hinted in recent weeks that they were learning toward accepting Blackstone's offer to sell. During a conference call with analysts earlier this month, Comcast Chief Financial Officer Michael Angelakis called the resort "well-managed" and "growing nicely."

NBCUniversal's new chief executive officer is Steve Burke, who had previously been Comcast's chief operating officer. Burke is a former Walt Disney Co. executive who once ran Disneyland Paris. Universal Orlando is also in the midst of the strongest financial performance in its history, thanks to the popularity of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The resort's two theme parks — Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure — drew 11.2 million visitors last year, up 20 percent from 2009. Profit rose more than six-fold to $148 million. The gains have continued in 2011. First quarter attendance was up 68 percent from a year earlier.

Industry analysts say a deal between Blackstone and Comcast is the ideal outcome for Universal. Most of the resort's key intellectual property licenses — including its deal for Harry Potter with Warner Bros. Entertainment — include provisions in which Universal could lose those rights if acquired by a new owner. But those change-of-control provisions wouldn't be affected by NBCUniveral assuming full ownership.  "Full ownership by NBCU, which owns other Universal-branded theme parks globally, rather than in a 50-50 joint venture with a private-equity firm, would clarify the long-term strategic and financial position of the company," John Puchalla, a corporate-credit analyst with Moody's Investors Service, wrote in a research note in March.

Comcast, through NBCUniversal's Universal Parks & Resorts division, already owns Universal Studios Hollywood in California. And it operates Universal theme park parks in Japan and Singapore through licensing deals. Blackstone has co-owned Universal since 2000, having paid $275 million cash to buy the stake from Rank Group PLC. The firm in 2009 bought Orlando-based SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment for a deal valued at about $2.5 billion.

Gloria Allred and the Case of the Sexy Casino Uniforms

TMZ is reporting that celebrity attorney Gloiria Allred is defending 9 cocktail servers who were fired from the Resorts Casino in Atlantic City to make way for younger women. TMZ's Photoshopped image is on the right.

Allred plans to hold a press conference in Atlantic City at noon Tuesday. The women are suing for unlawful race, sex and age discrimination.

No word on what Allred will really be wearing.

Instant Replay: Atlantic City Casino Workers Fired Because of "Skimpy Uniforms"

Boutique Hotels Warming Up to Kids

Hotel Diva
MSNBC: If you stay in the kids' suite at the Hotel Diva on San Francisco's Union Square, your little princess can do just that with sparkly shoes, a pink boa, jewelry and a drawer full of "gowns." If you have a prince, he can play Wii among other things. Whimsical wall art instructs you to "keep calm and eat a cupcake."

At the Diva, one of the local Personality Hotels, there are games, puzzles and an assortment of kids' movies. And kids sleep in bunk beds while parents sleep in a separate room attached by a hall. Older kids simply like the ambiance of the sleek hotel — glass wall, stainless steel headboards, bright blue carpet — complete with a sidewalk-of-fame featuring signatures of celebrity guests.

"Funky," declared 16-year-old Hannah Haglund, who was checking out with her family. "Different than other hotels," added her 12-year-old sister, Sarah. "A lot of character," said their mom, Marion.

Across the country, such small unique hotels are gaining a following among families who appreciate the intimate atmosphere, the service and the fact that they have, well, more personality than big chain hotels. Small hotels don't necessarily cost any more and in some cases they cost less.

"I really like the personal attention I get," said Richelle Haas of Renton, Wash. "The staff knows our name, remembers what we like and always has the car ready to go." Haas and her family, which includes two young sons, are big fans of Kimpton's 189-room Monaco near Pike Place Market in Seattle where families get a check-in packet complete with lists of kid-friendly restaurants and attractions. "It is the perfect hotel for kids," said Haas. "It never feels stuffy." Her boys, 7 and 10, especially liked that the chef gave them a tour of the kitchen and prepared a special Harry Potter dessert.

Boutique hotels, for their part, are responding to this enthusiasm with more family packages and amenities — from kids' digital cameras with some packages at New York City's Affinia Hotels to a personalized itinerary created for you at the Clifton Inn in Charlottesville, Va., where you can end the day with afternoon tea. Grab a handful of hard candies from the big jars at Whitney's Inn in Jackson, N.H., where kids can fish in the stocked pond — with complimentary poles. There is even a chance to set up a tent in your room at The Houstonian Hotel in Houston or have a cart loaded with activities and games delivered to your room at Seattle's Maxwell Hotel.

You'll also see a growing number of packages that will include admission to area museums, bike rental shops and even whale-watching excursions. "Absolutely families are an important market for us," said Ingrid Summerfield, president of Joie de Vivre Hospitality group, which operates more than 30 small hotels on the West Coast. "We want to create a more memorable experience."

Kimpton Hotels, which has 52 properties around the country, making it the largest group of boutique hotels in the country, has responded with a company-wide Kimpton Kids program and an array of family packages and amenities at its city hotels aimed at helping families (and their pooches — the hotels are all dog-friendly) to get out and explore, explains Niki Leondakis, Kimpton's president. There are kids' comment cards inviting them to rank their experience from yummy to yucky, kid-sized robes and concierges briefed on where local families go — from playgrounds to restaurants. Kids can even borrow a goldfish for the night while the hotel restaurants are stressing healthy offerings on the kids' menus.

Leondakis believes it has only been in the past few years that families have embraced boutique hotels, as they recognize what these places have to offer — at Kimpton, for example, free Wi-Fi, free use of the fitness club, afternoon wine (and juice) receptions and baby accoutrements at a price that is comparable, or in some cases less than big chain hotels. Because the hotels are smaller, families feel more comfortable letting even 10-year-olds go up to the room on their own. But most important, she explains, "They are looking for a unique experience and we have gone to great lengths to make it easy to bring kids."

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London Olympics to Include Recycled Uniforms

Metro.co.uk: Sports giant and sponsor for the London 2012 sportswear, Adidas, hopes that using the recycled content will make the Games 'sustainable'. Buttons, polyester and cotton for clothing will be from recycled materials, and there are plans for a special shoe to be made too.

Adidas also plans on making drinking bottles, which it claims will be the first 100% recycled bottle in the world. Chief executive Herbert Hainer said: 'Every product within the volunteer staff and the torch relay and within the village will have recycled material.'

German sportswear maker Adidas is also hoping that the team GB uniform, which will be designed by Stella McCartney, will become a must-have item for Olympics goers. Miss McCartney, daughter of former Beatle Sir Paul, is creative director of the Adidas Team GB ranges, and will oversee the design of the athletes' kit and fan clothing.

Mr Hainer thinks it will do well. He said: 'I have seen the prototypes already and I think what she is designing is truly phenomenal.'

The sports firm is investing £100m ($144 million) into the Olympic Games in London next year, and hopes the merchandise will generate £100m of sales, and will help it steal market leadership from rival Nike. Mr Hainer added: 'We want to achieve market leadership in the UK by 2015 at the latest. The Olympics is definitely a pillar for that.'

Adidas is kitting out the host nation's athletes with gear designed by Stella McCartney and also making the official London 2012 sports apparel merchandise for sale in the UK, which will not feature the group's three-stripes logo.

As official sportswear partner, Adidas will also provide clothing for the athletes to wear in the Olympic village and for volunteers.

Home Shopping Theme Park to Employ RFID

The Register: The latest Texan tourist attraction is a residential street, but one that invites visitors to tap an Android tablet against anything in the "neighborhood" to be shown more details about the object, as well as its price.

Main Street America isn't your typical theme park; instead of featuring rollercoasters or showgirls, the park promises "a memorable, one-of-a-kind learning and buying experience". And, as RFID Journal explains, one powered by Android tablets and NFC tags.

The park, which is already under construction and scheduled to open next summer, consists of 12 large show homes and a visitors' centre. The homes are perfectly appointed to take a wander around and admire the decor, but most importantly, all the fixtures and fittings bear Near Field Communications (NFC) tags for reading with the provided Android tablets.

Altogether 800 of the Android tablets – or Technological Educational Devices (TEDs), as the park likes to call them – will be available to visitors. Initially they'll be using USB-connected readers, which seems a bit primitive, but users will be able to tap any tag to get more information about the product beside it, and to create a wish list that can guide the sales representatives waiting back at the visitors' centre, easy-finance forms at the ready.

It all looks horribly American and takes the concept of tacky to a new low, but really it's not so different from walking around Ikea, looking at the rooms displayed therein.

Main Street America is bigger, of course, and there aren't any meatballs. But replacing Ikea's tiny pencils and impossible-to-spell product names with RFID tags can't be a bad thing, and when was the last time Ikea offered you "patriotic fireworks" or declared itself "A new beacon of hope symbolic of the promise that the American Dream is still alive and well"?

Demand, Lower Gas Prices Fuel Carolinas Tourism

Hilton Head, South Carolina
ABC News: Demand for vacations after a wearying recession and a break in gas prices could mean a stronger summer tourism season in the Carolinas, where the industry is worth $35 billion.

"Travel researchers are predicting this is going to be one of the busiest travel seasons since the recession," said Charlie Clark, a spokeswoman for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce on South Carolina's south coast. "We're having a strong season and that's tied to pent-up demand."

"We've made it back to where we were before it dropped off the cliff," said Will Tuttell of the North Carolina Department of Tourism.

"People have been cutting back a good bit over the past two or three years. The general feeling is the economy is slowly improving and people want to get out and do some things," said Perrin Lawson, Perrin Lawson, deputy director of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We're not expecting a record year, but we're expecting a very good year," he added, noting the best year for tourism in the area was 2007.

AAA Carolinas predicted a 3 percent increase in travel in South Carolina this Memorial Day weekend with about 423,000 South Carolinians taking to the highway. A similar increase was expected in North Carolina with 865,000 on the road. Gas prices in South Carolina were the cheapest in the nation averaging $3.59 a gallon and down about 16 cents this month alone, the auto club said. In North Carolina, the average was $3.73 a gallon, a drop of 10 cents in the past week.

In Myrtle Beach, the heart of South Carolina's tourism industry, the local chamber of commerce regularly surveys travelers. "People are well aware of the price of fuel," said Brad Dean, the president and CEO of the chamber. "Most still plan to travel this summer, but they may cut back on purchases or shorten their stay." But he added cheap gas in South Carolina won't have a big impact on out-of-state travelers.

At the upscale Mills House Hotel in Charleston's historic district, occupancy was strong since last summer, in part because of the Gulf oil spill, and expected to remain strong this year, said Tripp Hays, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.

He said the hotel this summer could set occupancy records, although rates are lower than in years past so it might not be a record year in terms of revenue. "Gas prices are an issue but they tend to be coming down. I know several hotels, including the Mills House, have promotions that if you stay with us two nights, we'll give you a $50 gas card," he said. Clark said several hotels on Hilton Head are also offering gas card promotions.

"Gas prices could be a problem. It's something we all worry about," said Chip Stevens, owner of Blackbeard's Lodge on Ocracoke Island on North Carolina's Outer Banks.

He said while bookings are slightly higher than this time last year, he's holding room rates at last year's levels. But he says people seem to be willing to spend a bit more cash for extras like bike rentals, T-shirts and souvenirs. "Last year, once they paid for the accommodations, there was very little other spending," he said.

But the improvement in the economy hasn't been felt everywhere in the tourism industry. Tammy Sessons, who runs the Dillsboro Chocolate Factory in the mountains of Jackson County, N.C., said business has been flat for three years and shows no immediate signs of picking up. She is also coordinator for the Dillsboro's Art and Music Festival next month. But people have been slow to sign up as exhibitors at the event celebrating mountain crafts and music.

"Our numbers are really low this year, and I think it has a lot to do with this economy stuff," she said.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

'Lord Of The Flies' Moment on Middle East Airlines Flight

A policeman on the Middle East Airlines flight
This Is London: Furious passengers staged a "mutiny" on a Heathrow flight after they were delayed for seven hours.Eight police officers were forced to intervene and some angry travellers grappled with the captain.

One witness likened the scene on the Middle East Airlines service to "something from Lord Of The Flies" as passengers raided the galley for meal trays and a Lebanese woman suffered heart palpitations. The flight to Beirut was one of 80 delayed for an average of two hours or cancelled as thunderstorms and winds of up to 40mph battered the country. City worker Jordan Lancaster was among the 250 people who boarded the flight at 1pm. It then missed its departure slot.

Ms Lancaster, a 45-year-old legal translator travelling to an archaological dig, called the Evening Standard at 7pm and said: "It is like something from Lord Of The Flies, people are hysterical. There are at least four babies and lots of elderly people on board."

"The crew have given up trying to explain the situation to people, and it has ended up in fisticuffs. Several men are also arguing with the captain. This guy in his fifties is so worked up he is being given oxygen." As Ms Lancaster was talking, a male cabin crew member could be heard over the intercom saying: "If any of our crew have been rude to you, we apologise for that."

"We need the passengers to hold their horses and calm down."

The steward then appeared to blame the delay on the passengers, stating: "You have two options. Either there will be a police investigation or people should calm down and let us leave." Police were called but no arrests were made and the flight eventually took off at 8pm."

Speaking from Beirut, one London-based businessman today said: "The stewards told us there would be delays due to the bad weather. After four hours, one man had a bit too much to drink and began bouncing around and had to be removed."

"The atmosphere was very tense and a middle-aged man told the crew member he was an idiot and that was when the pushing and shoving began. The captain came out once and I told him he had failed in his duty, to which he replied that I should fly the plane."

Another passenger, who did not want to be named, said: "By mid-afternoon, there was mutiny. The crew had thrown in the towel and gave up trying to tell passengers what was going on." Today it was not clear why the passengers were forced to remain on board for seven hours. A source at BAA, which owns Heathrow, claimed it was a matter for Middle East Airlines, the national carrier of Lebanon.

Naima Kassir, UK and Ireland manager for the carrier, said: "Due to the creeping delay due to the weather, the passengers lost their temper. Some were in transit from Canada and must have been tired. They got abusive and intimidated the crew. Security were called to calm the situation.

"We missed our 1pm slot due to the disruption on board and the next slot offered to us was nearly seven hours later. We apologise and regret this. This is not something we encounter normally. We will be contacting the passengers and will take corrective action based on the investigation."

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "We were called at 5.50pm to reports of disturbance on a flight at Heathrow. There were no arrests and the flight went on its way."

Camping No Longer Means Roughing It

USA Today: These days, camping isn't just pitching a tent in the wilderness on a long hike, or stopping at a campground far from home on a road trip.

Instead, for many leisure travelers, camping nowadays may involve driving just a few miles from home to spend the night in a cabin with a roof, bathroom, beds and electricity, or taking the kids to a place that offers activities and entertainment like scavenger hunts or sports competitions.

Jolene Baxman organizes an annual two-night trip for a dozen mothers and their kids to a Kampgrounds of America facility in Petaluma, Calif., a mere 5 miles from where she lives. But they don't pitch tents. They rent a lodge with a bathroom, indoor shower, kitchenette, microwave, barbecue grill, and, of course, beds. The moms take turns relaxing and making meals; the kids swim and bike. At night, they sing around a campfire and toast marshmallows.

"It's not far from our homes but it feels like we're camping," Baxman said. "We're out in the woods; it's very beautiful — lush trees and you don't hear any cars around. We're not in a tent, but it's camping to us." More than half of those staying with Kampgrounds of America say they were at home the night before arriving at the campground, according to KOA CEO Jim Rogers. That's a 25% increase over seven years.

Rogers says work demands, kids' schedules, high gas prices and other concerns are all contributing to the trend. "They just want to stay within reach and go away for shorter time periods," he said. Rogers also said KOAs have seen a 25% increase in the use of roofed accommodations at their campgrounds. "It's attracting a whole new breed of campers, people we haven't seen before," he said.

In Ohio, the Lazy River at Granville campground, 25 miles from Columbus, offers activities and entertainment ranging from a zipline to magic shows to arts and crafts. For those who bring laptops and TV sets, there is wireless Internet and cable service. One of the most popular attractions at Lazy River is the "bug lady," a local woman who takes visitors on a walk in the woods, where she points out bugs. "She's the Pied Piper of bugs," said Mark Kasper, owner of Lazy River. "She just entrances her audience."

Kasper observed that when he was young, "you'd go to the state park and watch a presentation with a ranger and a movie. Now it's different. We try to have everything the modern-day person wants, and yet you're away from the city."

Jeff Crider, spokesman for the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, says "more and more campgrounds across the country are offering organized activities that could range from nature walks to special themed weekend events like holiday events or Father's Day events. You can still find plenty of campgrounds that offer a natural setting and a nice environment for kayaking, fishing, or river tubing, but what the parks are finding is that more and more families want things to do. And fun activities are a way to get kids away from computers and iPods and do something as a family."

In addition, campgrounds that offer these types of activities find that people will stay longer — three or four days instead of just a weekend.

Crider said accommodations are also changing. Campgrounds are investing in everything from yurts and furnished teepees to cottages and cabins. A KOA in Herkimer, N.Y., just opened three furnished cabins for rent that are powered by solar panels, with a backup propane generator. "If they can provide rental accommodations, then they can make camping accessible to everyone. It isn't just people who like to rough it in a tent or who have an RV," Crider said.

Dawn Tosner, of Valley Stream, N.Y., has been going to the KOA in Herkimer, N.Y., for 15 years. "When we first started, we went tent camping," she said. "We gradually started using the cabins." Last year, joined by friends, she tried an upgraded cabin with all the comforts of home, including a bathtub, stove and TV.

"It's a little bit of luxury while still enjoying the outdoors," she said. "When you go tent camping, you have to bring everything with you — sleeping bags, all the utensils, supplies. You pack up the whole car. With the cabins, you don't need to bring as much stuff. You have more time to spend enjoying the trip." Even those who go the traditional route of sleeping on the ground may be spending time in a tent that has multiple rooms, with separate quarters that can be used for the kids or as a screened-in porch for chairs.

REI, the outdoor gear and apparel retailer, has seen an increase in overall sales for family camping tents. "Some of these tents are sized so four to eight people can sleep in them," said REI spokeswoman Courtney Coe. "They have a room divider that allows separate places for parents and kids to sleep comfortably, and a screened room for families to set chairs up in at night to play cards and get away from the bugs. You can also zip on an optional garage vestibule to give your family more storage space."

An eight-person model new for this year, the REI Kingdom 8, sells for $489, but Coe pointed out that some customers buy the bigger tent just for the space, even though only two or three people intend to use it.

On the other end of the scale, a backpacker's favorite is a lightweight tent called the REI Quarterdome that weighs just a hair under 4 pounds. "It's open and airy, with easy setup, packs well and is really comfortable for two people," said Coe. REI also offers lightweight sleeping pads, hammocks and butterfly chairs.

At Cabela's, the hunting, fishing and outdoor gear store, a new generation of lightweight, streamlined, easy-to-use "survival" kits is "a growing gear category among campers, including not only hardcore backpackers but also more leisurely family campers," according to spokeswoman Kristin Lauver. Gerber Bear Grylls Survival kits, for example, include fire-starting items and emergency supplies, with a basic kit weighing just 4.2 ounces ($23) and the ultimate version just 9.4 ounces ($50). The kits include fire starter, waterproof matches, snare wire, and a knife, with tools, fishing and sewing supplies and a survival blanket among the added goodies in the ultimate kit.

There are about 14,000 campgrounds in North America, Crider said, including national parks, with about 8,000 of the campgrounds privately owned and operated. KOAs exist in 475 locations.

Six Flags Magic Mountain Unveils "Road Runner"

The-Signal: With a pop of colorful confetti and the snip of a red ribbon, Six Flags Magic Mountain heralded the opening of its 17th roller coaster Saturday as the Valencia theme park celebrates its 40th anniversary.

The roller coaster Road Runner Express is located in Bugs Bunny World, and was designed as a family coaster, giving the 8- to 12-year-old “tween” crowd a chance to experience pint-sized thrills. The ride travels up a 28-foot lift hill and races around a 368-foot track at speeds reaching 20 mph.

The grand opening comes as the theme park is gearing up for its 40th anniversary celebration with the opening of the roller coaster Green Lantern: First Flight in June, along with the addition of a number of other new shows and performances.

“This 40th season is really going to be one of the most memorable in our history,” Six Flags Magic Mountain Park President Bonnie Rabjohn said. A group of 10 kids from the Boys & Girls Club of SCV were among the first to experience the coaster themed around cartoon character Wile E. Coyote and his battle to catch Road Runner.

“It was good,” 10-year-old Joana Gil said, with a smile. “It was fast. It was awesome!” And while Joana isn’t tall enough to ride roller coasters like Goliath and Viper, she is looking forward to the day when she’s ready. “I can take them,” she said.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Florida Hotel Helps Keep Kids Safe

News13: Not being able to find your child for even just a few seconds can be a nightmare for a parent, and it is a constant problem on the beach. In an effort to help make the situation a little easier, the International Palms Resort in Cocoa Beach is handing out bracelets to its guests.

Before heading to the beach, a parent can write a phone number and any vital information on the bracelet, and put it on their child's wrist.

A former lifeguard and current Cocoa Beach firefighter Wyatt Werneth came up with the idea. He said it could help 911 operators, firefighters and lifeguards.

Parents we spoke with like the idea. "You never know who is out here, especially in Florida," Suzanne Collins said. "You get a lot of transients, people in and out, stuff on the news everyday. You got to pay attention as a parent."

Lifeguards said there were about 500 missing children reported on Brevard County beaches last year. Guests at the International Palms Resort, and Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront hotels are able to pick up a bracelet. Hotel officials said if the program is successful, they might expand to other hotels throughout the region.

Dreamliner Key to Boston's Tourism Strategy

Boeing 787 Dreamliner
Boston Globe: The key to opening up the Asian market to Boston? The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a much-anticipated airliner that can fly long distances with less fuel than other planes its size.

Japan Airlines will be the first carrier to fly the 787 out of Logan International Airport when service starts here in April. The long-awaited plane, which is expected to launch in the fall, is the only aircraft that can profitably fly the 6,700-mile flight between Logan and Narita International Airport.

Other planes can’t make the 13 1/2-hour flight efficiently from Logan because its 10,000-foot runways aren’t long enough to allow those aircraft to take off fully loaded with passengers, cargo, and enough fuel to make the journey nonstop.

“We don’t have the mega runways that Kennedy offers. They can launch nonstops out of Kennedy to just about any destination in the world, fully loaded,’’ said Edward Freni, director of aviation for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan.

The lighter, smaller, more fuel-efficient 787s — with as much as half of the structure made out of composite materials — will have a capacity of about 200 passengers in Boston.

“That at least makes it possible to generate enough load factor to fill enough of those seats to make the operation profitable,’’ said Peter Belobaba, director of MIT’s Global Airline Industry Program.

Boeing touts the efficiency of the 787 for airlines, but the airliner has amenities for passengers as well. It will be equipped with bigger windows, noise-reducing technology, and sensors to counter the effects of turbulence. The air will be cleaned with a new gaseous filtration system and have a higher humidity level for greater passenger comfort.

The 787 is in the process of being certified by the Federal Aviation Administration and is expected to be delivered to its first airline, All Nippon Airways Co., in August or September. A total of 56 airlines, including United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, have placed orders for the 787. The plane was initially supposed to start flying in May 2008, but the launch date was pushed back by several factors including issues with suppliers, a strike at Boeing, and electrical problems.

Gulf Coast Hopes for Busy Memorial Day

CNN: Workers involved in the tourism industry along the U.S. Gulf Coast hope this Memorial Day weekend is one of their best in a long time. The threat of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill kept many tourists away from beach communities last year. Since the oil spill, BP has provided money to states to help promote tourism. So far, the oil giant says it has given Florida $42 million, Mississippi $18 million, Alabama nearly $30 and Louisiana $25 million in tourism grants.

Here are some comments about Gulf Coast tourism from people who work in the sector:

Mississippi: Janice Jones, a marketing manager at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Visitors Bureau said she is "hopeful about this year." She said "everyone kind of looks around for the piece of wood to knock on when you say that."

In addition to the 2010 oil spill, the area was also devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Jones said for Memorial Day weekend she is conservatively estimating that about 75% of hotel rooms will be booked -- a number that would be 10% more than in 2010 and the highest level in at least three years.

Additionally, she said the hotels this year will be filled with tourists, while last year they were filled largely with BP cleanup workers, who generally didn't spend money on tourist activities.

Alabama: Herb Malone, president and chief executive of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism said lodging rates have been climbing. "Since October 2010, we have seen an upward trend every month."

Memorial Day tourism numbers for beach areas are up, even compared to years before the spill. Malone added, "We are seeing increases over 2009 figures, which is a good indication that things are moving in the right direction."

Florida: Will Seccombe, chief marketing officer for Visit Florida said "we are looking for a really solid Memorial Day, and a really solid summer."

Most of Florida's beaches never saw any crude come ashore. The area impacted last year by the oil, or rumors of oil, is "clearly bouncing back and it's a big bounce" he said. "Northwest Florida is going to have an incredible rebound year."

Louisiana: "We are looking much better for recreational tourism this year," said Jacques Berry, spokesman for the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. He said a study shows "we are rebounding well on a regional basis (but) we still have work to do nationally with the perception about Louisiana seafood."

Much of the state's tourism centers around eating and catching seafood. "Locals (in the region) are quicker to understand what is going on," said Jill Kidder, co-executive director of the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association. "We are open and ready for business."

Friday, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries opened a six-mile stretch of beach known as Elmer's Island for the first time since it was hit by the oil. It comes at a good time, Berry said. "Red snapper season opens this weekend and that is exactly where they all go."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summer Travel Season Begins

Christian Science Monitor: Gas prices are up more than a dollar this Memorial Day weekend from last year, but Americans still plan to hit the road.

About 34.9 million Americans plan to travel this weekend, according to a study conducted by AAA, based in Heathrow Fla., and IHS Global Insight, a research and economic consulting firm based in Lexington, Mass. That's up a minuscule 0.2 percent from last year, but travelers will venture farther afield – an average of 792 miles compared with last year’s 626 miles – and more will take the trip by plane.

“We seem to have gotten back to the normal level [of travel],” says Shane Norton, a senior consultant at IHS who helped prepare the study.

In 2008, 31.6 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day, and in 2009, 30.5 million traveled. The number of travelers this year and last year are on par with prerecession numbers. However, vacationers are factoring high gas prices into their travel budgets, Mr. Norton says.

For some travelers, flying may have seem like a better option than taking a long road-trip, which could be one reason for the expected 11.5 percent increase in the number of air travelers this weekend compared with Memorial Day weekend 2010.

Travelers also plan to spend 14 percent less money overall. Instead of going to festivals or theme parks, road-trippers may opt for closer destinations that are low-cost or free, like historic sites and beaches. They may also pass on fine dining and cut back on shopping.

 “We’re expecting to see some differences in what they’re doing once they go on that trip,” Mr. Norton says. “Some of that is because they expect to spend more money on gas.”

But not everyone’s lacing up the hiking boots this weekend. The No. 1 destination for the weekend, based on the number of hotel reservations that have been made, is Las Vegas, according to an Orbitz analysis of bookings made through its site. Also near the top of the list are New York and Chicago. Indianapolis took the No. 10 spot, probably because the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for May 30.

Norton expects that for Memorial Day 2012, just as many Americans will travel, and they’ll likely spend more money, as gas prices should ease and the economy should continue to improve.

Even if economic conditions aren’t ideal, Americans like to splurge on Memorial Day weekend. The surge in travelers last year was unexpected, but as Norton explains, “Summer started and people said, 'OK, I’m spending some darn money.' ”

It might not be as satisfying as a nice dinner or shopping spree, but Americans will spend plenty of money again this weekend – at the gas pump.

NYC Sofitel Changes Housekeeper Dress Code

New York Post: Female staff at the Manhattan hotel where former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn allegedly sexually assaulted a chambermaid were being allowed Thursday to wear trousers instead of skirts, after a protest from employees, a union official said.

Sofitel, a hotel chain that prides itself on a traditional dress code, made the concession amid concern about the vulnerability of chambermaids after Strauss-Kahn was charged over allegations that he sexually assaulted and tried to rape a 32-year-old housekeeper.

The alteration of its uniform code followed a meeting between staff and management that was also attended by a New York Hotel Workers Union representative, according to The (London) Times. "There had been some complaints about the uniform," union spokesman John Turchiano told the newspaper.

Earlier this week, Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) called for legislation that would ensure maids were equipped with panic buttons. "Housekeepers at hotels have a right not to be sexually attacked," said Lancman. "We send hotel workers into rooms, by themselves, with no security."

Strauss-Kahn was moved Wednesday to a luxury Tribeca townhouse, where he will remain under house arrest.

Snow Melt Creating Spectacular Views at Yosemite

Old West New West: An above normal spring runoff from winter's heavy snow pack is creating spectacular views of Yosemite National Park's waterfalls, and rangers said waterfalls should last well into summer.

The May 1, 2011 snow survey, conducted by the California Department of Water Resources, reports the snow pack in the Merced River drainage at 199 percent of normal and the Tuolumne River drainage at 184 percent of normal, among the deepest snow packs in recent history for the Sierra.

Because of the above-normal snow pack, Rangers are saying Yosemite's waterfalls are near peak conditions. Due to the large amount of snow still in the high country, the waterfalls are expected to last longer into the summer season than normal, rangers added.

The heavy winter snow and wet spring have presented challenges to the Yosemite road crews, who are working to clear the Glacier Point Road and the Tioga Road. Although progress has been made on both roads, late openings are possible, especially on the Tioga Road.

Another set back from Mother Nature is impacting the cables on Half Dome, used by hikers to ascend the summit of the granite monolith. Because of the heavy snow pack, the cables have not been placed for the season. The cables will be erected when trail crews have safe access to Half Dome and can perform the work. It is doubtful that the cables will be ready for use by the Memorial Day weekend, rangers said.

Visitors within the park are being advised to be aware of high water level and fast moving water in the Merced River and other streams. With the increasingly warm weather, snow in the high country continues to melt and fill the Merced River. Extreme caution is important when in proximity to any moving water.

For current road conditions at Yosemite National Park, visit the website at www.nps.gov/yose

Google Adds Flight Information to Search Results

Search Engine Watch: Next time you use Google to search for a non-stop flight, a new feature in the search results will help you find a list of destinations, durations, and airlines.

If you know where you want to go (for example, [flights from new york city to san francisco]), Google will show you how many flights there are per day, the duration, available airlines, and the ability to view a schedule of upcoming non-stop flights.

Don’t know where you want to go? A search for [flight] will show flights to possible destinations based on your current Google location if it’s a city with an airport. If you aren't in a city with an airport, you can search for [flights from + the nearest city with an airport].

More generic searches, such as [flights to las vegas] will list the airports you can take flights from to get there, and it doesn’t default to your Google location. For example, there are flights from Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Francisco highlighted, and you can click the plus box to get many more.

Google’s new flight search feature only works with non-stop flights. So if you want a cheaper connecting flight, or if you’re looking to go to Hawaii or overseas, this feature won’t show up.

Though Google was finally cleared to buy ITA last month, Google says this tool doesn’t use ITA technology. This feature is pretty basic and not helpful beyond getting you to an airline's website, where you then have to do a second search for the same flight.

Google trails way behind Bing Travel (powered by Kayak), which offers much more in the way of sorting features (e.g., price, airline, depart/arrive, stops and duration). Also, with Bing, there's no need to do a second search when you're taken to the airline's website.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Florida's Siesta Beach Named Nation's Best

Tampabay.com: Dr. Beach has announced his No. 1 pick for this year, and Sarasota County's Siesta Beach has the honors. The annual survey by Florida International University professor Steven Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, named the wide slice of brilliant white sand and warm, emerald water on the state's s southwest Gulf coast as the best beach in the United States.

“The sand is like sugar,” said Leatherman, director of FIU’s Laboratory for Coastal Research. “Some people can’t believe it. You have to bring sunglasses because it’s so bright. It’s super soft, super fine. They claim to have the finest, whitest sand in the world, and I can’t argue with that.”

Previously, the 40 acres of almost pure quartz crystal sand on the Siesta Key barrier island was runner-up in Leatherman’s rankings the past two years and was third in 2008. San Diego’s Coronado Beach was runner-up this year. Rounding out the top 10 were:
No. 3, Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki, Honolulu
No. 4, Main Beach, East Hampton, N.Y.
No. 5, Cape Hatteras in North Carolina
No. 6, St. George Island State Park, Florida Panhandle
No. 7, Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, S.C.
No. 8, Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.
No. 9, Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii
No. 10, Cape Florida State Park near Miami
Leatherman ranks beaches on 50 criteria, including the look and feel of the sand, water quality, weather, facilities and crowds.Florida's beaches typically rank high in the survey, and in fact two local beaches have won: Caladesi Island in 2008 and Fort DeSoto in 2005. Both have been retired from the list and are now in his hall of fame.

Late Snow Could Hurt Colorado Tourism

9News: It is nearly June and Colorado's mountains still look as though we're at the beginning of March. "This is what it looks like all winter out here," Pat Randall, a store owner in Grand Lake, said. The snow that has kept falling in the high country has made for a different spring.

Independence Pass opened Thursday, but Mt. Evans Road is only halfway open and Trail Ridge Road is still closed because of all the late snow. Arapahoe Basin and Aspen are still open for skiers. "It is a pretty big weekend in the scheme of things, definitely," Randall said.

The snow is certainly not what Randall and his family were hoping for this holiday weekend. They need customers, lots and lots of customers, to kick off the summer season. "They call it 'the kick-off to the summer' here," Randall said.

But the snow is kicking that idea to the curb.

"I think we're going to lose a lot of campers," Randall said. With Trail Ridge Road closed, some figure Grand Lake will lose out on hundreds, if not thousands, of usual holiday visitors.  "I think we'll lose a lot of folks from Northern Colorado. They're not going to want to drive all the way through Denver and come back up," Randall said.

The one guarantee: Out of state folks who don't care, like Kandi Lawson who drove to Grand Lake from Texas. "We've come 1,200 miles to be here this weekend," she said.

Regardless of the Trail Ridge Road closure, she and her family usually find other things to do. "The shopping is fantastic, the food is superb, the people are nice. Even though it's cold, it's still beautiful," Lawson said.

If only there were more people like Lawson around this weekend, business owners say things would be a whole lot sweeter. "It's still nice to have our sleepy town," Lawson said.

It's unclear how long it will take for Trail Ridge Road to open. Some folks in the Park Service say the second week of June. It's just one of those wait-and-see situations.

Pinnacle Entertainment Expanding in Vietnam

Ho Chi Ming City
Gambling City: Pinnacle Entertainment, which operates several casinos around the US, has entered into an agreement with Canadian firm Asian Cost Development to invest in a project that would bring a Las Vegas-style luxury resort hotel and casino complex to the shores of Vietnam. Pinnacle has agreed to invest US$95 million for a 26 percent share in the project.

The project is part of the new Ho Tram Strip complex of casino resorts in development in a beach city southeast of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). MGM Mirage is also in the process of developing a new casino facility, the MGM Grand Ho Tram, which will include over 500 slot machines and 90 table games. The MGM Grand Ho Tram is expected to open in late 2013.

The move to the Vietnam market represents a large step for Pinnacle. Previously, the company had focused on developing smaller casinos around the US. The company operates several casinos around the country, including facilities in Missouri, Indiana and Louisiana in addition to the Boomtown Casino in Reno, Nevada. Although the company is based in Las Vegas, it does not operate a casino in the city, either on or off the Las Vegas Strip.

The announcement also caught many casino industry observers by surprise. Joel Simkins, a gaming industry analyst with the investment bank Credit Suisse, said that “the deal has come out of left field” for many investors. However, he does see some positive effects from the move, as it “could lift Pinnacle’s overall valuation”.

Universal Singapore Launches Grand Opening

The Independent: A mixture of stars from both the East and West's entertainment worlds are gathering in Singapore this weekend for the official launch of Asia's first Universal Studios theme park.

The Grand Opening of Universal Studios Singapore - to be held over May 27 and 28 - will see Chinese martial arts superstar Jet Li joined by acclaimed Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung, China's Vicki Zhao Wei, and American singer Paula Abdul for celebrations that will take in a parade, a traditional red carpet walk for the stars and a gala party.

And while Arnold Schwarzenegger was a late withdrawal for the festivities planned - with more pressing matters to deal with on the home front - Universal Studios Singapore is hoping that by revealing such attractions as the Madagascar Ride and the BSG Roller Coaster they'll be able to grab the lion's share of tourists now flocking to the Lion City.

"What excites us is that these superstars bring magic, movies and entertainment to life. And this epitomizes what Universal Studios Singapore is all about," Michael Silver, president of global business development, Universal Parks & Resorts, said in a statement.

Singapore has under the past five years invested heavily in building two massive tourist attractions - Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, which houses the Universal Studios theme park among other attractions. Both properties also include casinos which last year generated a staggering US$5.1 billion (3.5 billion euros) combined.

Singapore has launched a concentrated effort to lure both Asian and international tourists away from cities such as Hong Kong (which has its own theme parks in Disneyland and Ocean Park) and Macau, which has invested heavily in casinos. The move has been paying off too with Singapore last year welcoming a record 12 million visitors, a year-on-year rise of around 25 percent.

For those wanting to keep up with this weekend's action in Singapore, Universal Studios has set up a Facebook site (www.facebook.com/ResortsWorldatSentosa) which will feature regular updates.

Subway Testing "Subway Cafés"

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Subway, known for foot-long sandwiches and a guy with huge pants, wants to be your new neighborhood hangout.

The Connecticut-based company is testing “Subway Cafés” in hopes that franchisees will open stores in more upscale locations. So far, there’s just one test location: A prime corner spot in Alexandria, Virginia.

The menu still includes sandwiches and wraps, but the café also sells hot and cold espresso drinks, baked goods and frozen blended beverages.

Sound familiar? These days, Seattle-based Starbucks seems like the company to beat when it comes to creating a hang-out atmosphere. In an interesting twist, the coffee served in Subway Cafés would come from Seattle’s Best, a Starbucks subsidiary.

Subway is just the latest fast food chain to take a stab at cafés. McDonalds also recently started testing the concept of replacing fiberglass tables with faux-leather chairs.

So, would you hang out at a Subway? Here’s an atmospheric description, courtesy of Nation’s Restaurant News:
(The) décor and signage for the café would be standardized, and would feature brick or wood paneled walls, more lounge-style seating with comfortable armchairs, and in some cases a fireplace. Lighting also would be different from standard Subway operations. (A spokesman) noted, however, that the design would remain flexible to allow for the development of the cafes in a variety of locations.
The folks at Nation’s Restaurant News also have a gallery of Subway Cafe photos.

The Secret Life of Hotels

Wall Street Journal: If not for luxury hotels, where would politicians connect with prostitutes? Where would celebrities rendezvous with porn actresses? Where would an exhibitionist paying $800 a night for a room publicly display sex acts in his window to pedestrians on the Highline?

To guests who pay thousands of dollars per night for a suite in luxury hotels like The Plaza, The Trump International, The New York Palace or even the Sofitel, the hotel is their home away from home. With this customer base, whatever complexities or eccentricities the guest is accustomed to in their private home will likely be requested in the privacy of their hotel suite. In my many years as a concierge, I was glad to oblige anything that would make them happy. It was not an issue to have specific bedding purchased exclusively for the guest during their stay; I didn’t hesitate for a moment to provide a client with an “unauthorized” private tour of the trading room floor; I was eager to maneuver my way past the waiting list to enable my guest to score the coveted Birkin Bag that she had to have that day.

My experiences in delivering “your wish is my command” service to this luxury clientele came with enough blush-worthy encounters to fill a book. It certainly didn’t hurt that I simply do not judge my guests, and let them know it. But something about my open willingness to serve exposed me to a world quite different from my own world. When spreading rose petals on a bed wasn’t decadently romantic enough, I was asked instead to fill the bath tub with chocolate. When every available flavor of ice cream in a ten-mile radius wasn’t quite right for my guest’s craving, I had to find a chef who would concoct artisanal peppermint ice cream that would satiate his palate. When nature failed the male libido of her lover, I was asked by a guest to procure Viagra on the spot—with no mention of a prescription.

The Dominique Strauss-Kahn incident has incited lively conversations among industry colleagues as well as among most of my staff at a private company that supplies concierges to hotels, where many of us come from long histories as concierges in various NYC luxury properties. It has presented a new perspective on what we often shrugged off as nothing more than annoying guest behavior.

Colleagues and staffers alike have shared stories. The guest who asks for a pack of cigarettes to be sent up to the room and receives us at the door fully naked. The guest who calls down “just to chat” and has porn blatantly blaring in the background. The guest who explicitly propositioned me to accompany him and his wife to a swingers party—the same party that I had earlier helped him find. Was this a criminal offense? Should I have gone to management to report harassment? But this man was not my boss. He was my guest, and it was my job to make the guests feel at home. (Although in those types of cases, I demurred.)

Our formal hotel training was focused primarily on the guest experience. Our emotional comfort was treated as an aside. Sure, we had safety training pertaining to things like an intoxicated or irate guest who threatens physical harm to us or other guests. Certainly, we were never formally told by management not to report incidents of guest behaving badly. But none of us are able to recall standardized procedures or policies to report indiscriminate guest behavior toward us.

In the same way that family matters are usually handled within the home–especially with the rarefied elite—hotels exist in an insulated reality. In the hotel universe, issues are often best resolved in a gentlemanly and discreet manner that avoids unnecessary public drama for the guest or for the hotel. As a hotel Concierge, it has never been my experience that a hotel covers up an incident that presents a danger to staffers caused by an unruly guest.

Michael Fazio is a partner in Abigail Michaels Concierge, Manhattan’s premier concierge business, serving almost 20,000 condominiums, hotels and private clients. He is the co-author of the book “Concierge Confidential: The Gloves Come Off–and the Secrets Come Out! Tales from the Man Who Serves Millionaires, Moguls, and Madmen.”

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Amusement Parks By The Numbers

The Telegraph: Here are some of the world's biggest attractions:

Tallest rollercoaster: Kingda Ka in the Six Flags Great Adventure park in New Jersey is the world's tallest steel rollercoaster, measuring 456ft tall. The ride accelerates up to 128 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds. However, it is no longer the fastest rollercoaster in the world. That title was taken by Formula Rossa opened in November 2010.

Largest Ferris Wheel: The world's largest ferris wheel is the Singapore Flyer which is so tall that it offers passengers a bird's eye view of the city-state as well as parts of neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia. Standing at 541 feet high, the Singapore Flyer is 98 feet taller than the London Eye. However, both will be trounced by the planned 682 feet Great Wheel of China in Beijing, which is yet to be completed.

World's biggest carousel: The Carousel at House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin is reported to be the world's largest. The indoor carousel includes 269 different beasts from around the world without a single horse head (zebras excluded). The carousel itself has over 20,000 lights and 182 chandeliers.

World's highest water slide: The giant Insano water slide in Fortalez Brazil is the highest water slide in the world at 134ft high, a record listed in the Guinness Book of Records. Its height is equivalent to that of a 14-storey building.

Biggest theme park: Disney World in Florida is the world's biggest theme park, measuring 47 square miles. But in 2012 it will be surpassed by the Dubailand complex, a landmass roughly the size of Orlando itself. The complex will become home to six amusement parks including Six Flags, Universal Studios, Dreamworks, Marvel and Legoland. Dubailand's Falcon City will have life-size replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, and the Taj Mahal.

New York Promises "More Smiles Per Gallon"

New York, a state known for its high taxes and high costs,  is promoting itself as a cheap date this holiday weekend. The state is trying to lure residents of Canada and nearby states with their "more smiles to the gallon" tourism campaign

Visitors can go to   http://thebeat.iloveny.com/ to find an online travel guide and planning tools.

The site says: “The message to travelers this summer is simple: don’t let the high price of gas at the pumps stop you from enjoying a world class vacation here in New York,” says Edward Maitino, Managing Director of the Division of Tourism at Empire State Development.  “I LOVE NEW YORK has put together these affordable and inspiring packages that invite New Yorkers and travelers from surrounding states and Canada to see for themselves the incredible travel destinations and adventures you can experience close to home on a single tankful of gas.”

Michigan Tourism Increased 13.7% in 2010

Detroit News: Michigan's tourism industry experienced a 13.7 percent increase in spending last year — fueled by out-of-state travelers — after sustaining three consecutive years of decline, according to a study released Wednesday.

Total travel spending jumped statewide to $17.1 billion compared with 2009's $15.1 billion, which was the lowest spending in nearly a decade, according to a national travel survey by McLean, Va.-based D.K. Shifflet & Associates. Last year's numbers represented the highest level of tourism spending since 2007.

But Michigan's improvement in 2010 remained far below 2006's $18.7 billion peak. Spending by non-residents soared last year to nearly $9.3 billion, the highest level in the 10 years of data — going back to 2001 — that the study released.

By contrast, the $7.9 billion in spending by Michigan residents declined 0.1 percent in 2010, even compared with 2009's disappointing total. That made resident tourism spending the lowest since 2001's $6.7 billion, according to the survey.

"Michigan is becoming a national destination for visitors from across the nation, making tourism increasingly important as new visitors help our economy grow," Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement. "We expanded our Pure Michigan branding efforts early in my administration because they successfully tell the important story of Michigan, attracting visitors and investments to our state."

The surge translated to more jobs — a 7.2 percent increase to 153,000 last year but still well off 2006's peak of 200,000 jobs.

Counties that depend heavily on tourism — such as lakeshore-endowed counties like Leelanau and Grand Traverse — experienced some of Michigan's highest population gains in the 2010 U.S. Census, demographer Kurt Metzger of Data Driven Detroit reported last week.

A Michigan State University study projects the state's tourism spending is poised to increase 4 percent this year, creating a second straight year of growth.

Google to Announce Mobile Payment System

Which.co.uk: Internet giant Google is expected to launch a mobile payments platform later today.

Going by the name of Google Wallet, the Android-based payments system will allow consumers to pay for goods or receive special offers simply by waving select Android-based Sprint smartphones at a specialised reader at the checkout.

Google Wallet is likely to use near-field communications (NFC) technology, similar to that employed in the Quick Tap contactless phone payment service recently launched in the UK by Orange and Barclaycard.

Google Wallet will be trialled in stores in New York and San Francisco before being rolled out to other states in America. According to the Wall Street Journal, which first surfaced these rumours, American Eagle, Macy’s and Subway are three retailers who have agreed to trial the mobile payments system in their stores.

Google is expected to sell advertising to the retailers that participate in the mobile payments system, and third-party Android app developers will be able to write software that integrates into the payment system.

Hotels Offer Gas Incentives to Lure Guests

USA Today: Hotels across the USA are dishing out a wide array of fuel-related discounts to keep high gas prices from dampening summer vacation plans.

The deals range from gas gift cards and free hotel nights to promotions in which travelers submit their gas receipts for reimbursement. There are also deals rewarding people who carpool or take mass transportation.

While the concept isn't new, the programs are "getting a little more sophisticated," says Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

Wednesday's national average for regular gasoline was $3.81 a gallon, up about a dollar from a year ago, but less than the record $4.11 average in July 2008, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. McInerney says gas promotions are especially enticing for travelers who haven't made up their minds, making Memorial Day weekend a perfect time for them.

Guests headed to East Coast beach resorts can find gas deals in Ocean City, Md., the South Carolina resorts of Hilton Head Island and Myrtle Beach, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, according to tourism officials at those places. Charlie Clark, a spokeswoman for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, says fuel incentives appeal because eight of 10 people travel to the island by auto.

At Affinia Manhattan in New York, guests who show a mass transit ticket will be eligible to get a $20 gas card in the "Take a Pass on Gas" promotion that begins in June, says general manager Steven Kipnis.

Among gas-related incentives:

•Napa Valley, Calif. At Napa Old World Inns bed and breakfast, guests who carpool will be given a two-bedroom suite for the price of a standard room through July, says innkeeper Russ Herschelmann.

•San Antonio. The Grand Hyatt and Hyatt Regency hotels plan "Fuel Your Stay" in June. The deal will give guests up to a $75 credit for hotel incidentals, including food, beverage and parking expenses, based on their mileage on the way to the hotel, says Nicole Zvek, director of revenue management for the hotels. Guests must show a copy of a gas receipt, and there is a two-night minimum.

•Myrtle Beach, S.C. Starting June 18, guests renting condos at the Barefoot Resort will be eligible for a $50 gas card and a free night if they book seven-night stays with a Saturday check-in, says Karla Faircloth, operations manager.

Las Vegas Casino Introduces New Dice Game

Vegas Chatter: Red Rock Casino introduced a new game this past weekend called Scossa.

Scossa is a dice game, played on a table similar to a craps table, but actually plays more like roulette. In fact, compared to craps, the odds don't seem too bad and look even better on the exotic bets. We love craps, so we were immediately curious. Let's take a look at how to play:

The object of Scossa™ is to correctly predict the outcome on a roll of a pair of dice. Scossa™ offers seven different types of bets:

- Straight Number Bets - You win if the result of the dice is the number you placed your wager on (i.e., 2 thru 12).

- Split Bets - You win if the result of the dice is either of the straight numbers adjacent to the line you placed your wager on. (i.e., 7 or 2, 6 or 3, 5 or 4, 7 or 12, 8 or 11, 9 or 10)

- Range Bets - You win if the result of the dice is any of the four numbers in the range you placed your wager on. (i.e., Low – 3, 4, 5 or 6, High – 8, 9, 10 or 11)

- Hard Way Bets - You win if the result of each dice shows the same number. (i.e., two 1’s, two 2’s, two 3’s. two 4’s, two 5’s, or two 6‘s)

- Hard Way Split Bets - You win if the result of the dice is either of the Hard Way numbers adjacent to the line you placed your wager on. (i.e. 2 or hard 4, hard 4 or hard 6, hard 6 or hard 8, hard 8 or hard 10, hard 10 or 12)

- Triple 7’s Bonus Bet - You win if the Shooter rolls three 7’s in a row

- Lucky 7 for Dealer - The Dealer wins if the Shooter rolls a 7

In our research, the only thing that stood out as controversial, and possibly negative, is that there is a dealer bet placed on the felt. This is the first game to do that and reaction seems mostly negative. It has long odds, but seems as if it comes across like placing a tip jar at a coffee shop cash register. Some people are bothered by that, some don't care. We gamble enough to know how, and when, to tip. We don't need the nudge.

There are quite a few bets with a relatively small house edge (under 3%), which is nice to see. It seems as if the game makers are trying to find any way to capture the excitement of craps. We're not sure that changing the rules in craps will make it more fun, but with decent odds and simple play, Scossa has us curious to try it out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TSA Threatens Texas Over Antigroping Bill

Examiner.com: A bill passed by the Texas House of Representatives making it illegal for the Transportation and Security Administration to conduct invasive pat-downs is dead after threats to cancel all outgoing Lone Star State flights.

The bill, which was quite explicit in its formulation, would have made it a misdemeanor for TSA personnel to touch “the anus, sexual organ, buttocks, or breast of another person including through the clothing.” The penalties for violating the law would have included a $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

After the Texas House passed the bill, the TSA fired a warning volley, blogging that the state is barred by the U.S. Constitution from regulating the federal government. But when the bill went to the state Senate for a vote, the feds took more decisive action on the TSA’s behalf. U.S. attorney John Murphy drafted a letter stating that if the bill passed the Senate, the TSA would cancel all flights out of Texas. The letter argued that the TSA “could not ensure the safety of passengers and crews” unless agents were given the free range they currently enjoy, which has included:

   - Reaching, twice in one pat-down, into the underpants of a whining 6-year-old.

   - Groping the breasts, inner thighs, and crotch of a female passenger who had just cleared security.

   - Patting down a wheelchair-bound 14-year-old victim of brain and spinal cancer.

Republican Dan Patrick, who was the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, withdrew it when he realized he lacked the votes needed for passage. The senator is quoted in the Texas Tribune as having remarked: There was a time in this state, there was a time in our history, where we stood up to the federal government and we did not cower to rules and policies that invaded the privacy of Texans.

Brickyard to Celebrate 100 Years of Racing

Motor Authority: To celebrate 100 years of racing on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), a centennial golden brick found placement on the historic "Yard of Bricks" in anticipation of Sunday's Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Mari Hulman George, IMS chairman of the board, A.J. Foyt, the first four-time winner of the May Classic and IMS CEO/president Jeff Belskus participated in the installation ceremony on May 24th.

The golden brick is set to remain in place, albeit with rubber marks upon it, through the race on May 29th.

On November 6, 1961, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hulman and inaugural winner Ray Harroun placed a golden brick in the same Yard of Bricks to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Harroun's victory in 1911.

This year, Foyt is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first Indy 500 victory; that was the last race at IMS in which the entire front straightaway was paved with bricks. All but the Yard of Bricks at the start/finish line (which is actually a three-foot strip) received asphalt paving in October of 1961.

"I'm just happy I lived long enough to be part of this special tradition," Foyt said. "I think Tony Hulman would be very proud of how Mari (his daughter) has taken care of the Speedway over the years, and I'm sure he's watching over her today."

Dinosaur Burns at Ohio Theme Park

KyPost: Kings Island officials continue to investiate a fire that damaged the new dinosaur exhibit "Dinosaurs Alive" at the Mason amusement park Tuesday night.

Kings Island public relations manager Don Helbig said the fire occurred around 8:40 p.m. during construction of the largest animatronic dinosaur in the exhibit, the Ruyang Yellow River dinosaur, which measures 72 feet long, 12 feet wide and 38 feet high.

The Kings Island Fire Department was the first on the scene and the fire was quickly contained. No injuries were reported. Damages are in the thousands, according to Helbig.

Investigators are not sure how the fire started at this time, but an investigation is ongoing. No other information has been released. Helbig said the new exhibit is still scheduled to open Thursday, May 26 and that they will replace the dinosaur.

New York #1 for Bed Bugs (Again)

KGO AM810: The Big Apple apparently has a few bugs in it.

A study just released by Terminix reveals that New York City leads the country in bed bug infestations for the second straight year. Experts aren't too surprised by the result, saying New York City is a heavily populated metropolis with well-publicized infestations everywhere, from apartment buildings to department stores to corporate offices.

Terminix reports there has been an increase in reported bed bug infestations in most states during the past year, mainly because consumers are more aware and on the lookout for the little buggers.

Here's the extermination company’s list of most bed bug-plagued cities, based on customer complaints validated by Terminix and infestations discovered during pest calls:

1. New York
2. Cincinnati
3. Detroit
4. Chicago
5. Philadelphia
6. Denver
7. Washington, D.C.
8. Los Angeles
9. Boston
10. San Francisco
11. Columbus, Ohio
12. Dayton, Ohio
13. Baltimore
14. Louisville, Kentucky
15. Dallas

U.S. Navy Kicks Off Fleet Week

Hundreds of sailors on nine vessels are sailing up the Hudson River today to begin the U.S. Navy's 24th annual "Fleet Week," New York City's week long tribute to honor America's Navy and Marine Corps.

The hightlight of this year's event will be a visit by the USS New York, an amphibious transport ship that was constructed using 7 1/2 tons of steel salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center destroyed on September 11, 2001.

Fleet Week will end on Memorial Day with a military flyover honoring American service members who lost their lives in service to the country.

FAA Recommends Safety Seats for Children Under 2

ABC News: The Federal Aviation Administration recommended today that children weighing 40 pounds or less sit in FAA-approved child safety-seats when flying. "The safest place for a child on an airplane is in one of these seats, and not in the parent's lap," said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt at a Washington, D.C., press conference. The Association of Flight Attendants also joined in the recommendation.

In addition to the air travel safety implications, the FAA flight safety suggestion also means added cost for families with children under two wishing to follow the recommendation. Current rules allow children under the age of two to fly for free if they sit on the lap of an adult passenger.

While the FAA says it is safest for children under the age of two to sit in their own seats, the administration is not making this a requirement because it argues that the extra cost may push families to drive to their destinations instead of flying. The FAA maintains that a child is safer on a plane, even if sitting on a lap, than in a car.