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Monday, October 31, 2011

New GPS Apps Guide Travelers to Points of Interest

USA Today: Amber waves of grain and purple mountains are great, but long road trips along U.S. interstate highways inevitably leave you hankering for junk food, safe rest stops and familiar hotel brands.

Several GPS-based apps have hit the market, aiming to make the expansive terra of American highways a little less incognita. Using the phone's GPS, they know where you are on the highway and tell you what's coming up in real time as you drive through exits. You can pre-select some favorites to get alerts (say, Holiday Inn hotels or Five Guys Burgers).

Some, like the I-95 Exit Guide, specialize in only one major highway. There are apps just for finding rest stops. I tested three of the more general highway apps — iExit, RoadNinja and Road Tip — on a 30-mile stretch of I-66 near Washington, D.C., and found their mission intriguing, though their execution still leaves a lot to be desired.

Plenty of popular "help-me-find-spots-near-me" apps exist, but they point to places in front of, behind and left and right of you. The highway apps, on the other hand, are wooing users who literally are looking farther down the road.

Many travelers are familiar with the experience of finding a decent Italian restaurant on Yelp or Urbanspoon, only to find that they just missed the exit to get to the restaurant. There are more than a handful of highway travelers who crave a particular dish (say, tacos), but settle for a nearby McDonald's burger — only to find a Taco Bell three exits farther along. These highway guide apps exist to solve such problems.

While the apps mostly worked as they were intended, their shortcomings were quickly obvious. Nearly all entries are shops and restaurants that are part of large national chains, which is fine for some but not for curious and intrepid travelers looking for local favorites. Near an exit at a busy Washington suburb known for many good ethnic restaurants, the apps gave me a tiresome list of only McDonald's, Denny's, Fuddruckers and the like.

Their content was limited in other ways. Although RoadNinja claims to show attractions, it missed some key ones — Civil War battlefields and water parks — along the way. IExit and RoadNinja promise coupons and deals, but I didn't find any in the 30-mile test.

Despite such shortcomings, I am still likely to use them on trips, particularly iExit. They are certainly better than highway road signs, well intentioned though they may be, that are infrequent and limited in scope. And that alone is a good start.

Here's a closer look:

iExit

Overview: Highway guide app that shows up to 50 closest exits. $1.99 and available for Android and iPhone.

Pros: Select favorites and receive alerts. Content is more comprehensive than the other two. Shows nearby deals/coupons, if available. One-tap calling. Has comprehensive categories not found in competitors, including type of gas (unleaded vs. biofuel) and independent hotels.

Cons: Exit-by-exit content not available unless you're on the highway. Sometimes fails to recognize that you're on the highway. Few deals or coupons available. Doesn't change directions (you can only see exits in front of you).

Takeaway: Best of group.
 

RoadNinja

Overview: Highway guide app affiliated with Foursquare. Has over 30,000 exits and shows places of interest within 3 miles of upcoming exits. Free and available for iPhone.

Pros: Offers promotions and coupons, if available. Works even when not on the highway. Has user reviews (though number is small and many aren't useful). One-click calling. Allows search of exits behind you or just passed.

Cons: Content is more limited than others. Despite Foursquare affiliation, no promotions and deals found on trial in busy D.C. suburb. Fewer categories of places than others.

Takeaway: Not as good as iExit, but it's free.


Road Tip

Overview: Minimal highway guide app for finding just gas, food and lodging. Filter results by exits or by type of service. $2.99 and $4.99 yearly subscription required after three months. Available for iPhone.

Pros: Ability to filter by favorites. May appeal to minimalists who just want simple lists of three important categories.

Cons: Slow to recognize GPS location. Even slower — or often won't work at all — if you're not moving or not on the highway. Needs more content. Doesn't change directions (you can only see exits in front of you). No link to phone number or address. Requires yearly subscription.

Takeaway: Not worth the price.

World Travel Trends for 2012

News.com.au: Escape asked several travel experts what they thought would be tops in destinations and trends for 2012.
 
FEDERICO Folcia and Jia En Teo are the founders and chief executives of Roomorama (www.roomorama.com), the website that offers comfortable yet affordable short-term accommodation in urban areas across the globe, with more than 250,000 properties in 450 destinations.

What destinations will be popular in 2012?

Europe will be hugely popular because of the London Olympics. There will be an estimated 500,000 new visitors each day to London for the Games and many will take the opportunity to travel to close destinations like Paris, Rome, Amsterdam and Berlin. South-East Asia will continue to be popular because of the strong Aussie dollar and the affordability of travelling in the region.

What experiences will define travel in 2012?

Travellers want to live like locals. They're not just looking to check off the typical tourist spots but to experience a place and leave with stories to tell. Short-term or vacation rentals will prove to be popular, especially since the peer-to-peer accommodation concept is catching on with many travellers as an alternative to hotel rooms.

What will be the best destinations to get off the beaten track in 2012?

Manila is a fast-growing metropolis and while people usually head straight to the beaches when they go to the Philippines, and skip the capital, it's a city with many hidden gems and even the malls have plenty of local boutiques and businesses rather than large chains. Sri Lanka is another great destination because it's still untouched by tourism and quite underrated with balmy weather, great local food, art and history, and it's still very affordable.

What will be the unusual destinations everyone is talking about in 2012?

Ukraine and the cities of Kiev, Kharkiv, Donetsk and Lviv, because of the UEFA Euro 2012 football finals, and Odessa, which is a beautiful city on the Black Sea.

If you could rent an apartment anywhere in the world, and stay there for a month, where would it be?

It would be Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam because it's historic, the cost of living is very affordable and it's possible to rent a fairly decent room for $10 a night, or a completely private apartment for $25 a night.

If time and money were no object, where would you like to spend your next holiday?

We would love to travel to Brazil and take a boat down the Amazon there's so much to see there that you would need a lot of time.

Seven Inappropriate Restaurant Names

The Daily Meal: Leonardo DiCaprio and Blake Lively were spotted this week, according to Page 6, eating lunch side by side at Pink Taco, an upscale Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. The thing that sucks about Pink Taco, aside from its somehow chauvinist name, is that they recently painted a donkey pink in a publicity stunt that got them a lot of negative attention from animal lovers. But what do you expect from a restaurant with a title like that? Don't answer, it's rhetorical.

The question we did want answered was what other offensive restaurant names are out there. These are a few of our favorites; some are good enough to make Pink Taco blush...

1. Mother Clucker's
Iroquois, Ontario

2. A&K Lick-a-Chick
Bras d'Or, Nova Scotia

3. Dirty Dick's Crab House
Nag's Head, NC

4. Hooters
Every. where.

5. Big Pecker's Bar & Grill
Ocean City, MD

6. Thai Me Up
New York, New York

7. Hung Far Low
Portland, OR

Berlin Restaurant Serves Only Caveman Food

Daily Mail: At first glance, Berlin's Sauvage restaurant looks much like many of the German capital's other trendy eateries.

But take a closer look at the chalkboard out front and you'll discover they are embarking on a culinary shake-up that takes its inspiration from the Stone Age.

Proudly announcing a 'Real Food Revolution - Paleolithic cuisine!', there is no cheese, bread or sugar available, only fare accessible to our hunter-gatherer ancestors more than two million years ago.

The restaurant menu shows a stereotypical image of modern humanity's forbearer, the jutting profile of a hirsute caveman. Inside, diners eat at candle-lit tables with a contemporary cave painting hanging in the background, according to Spiegel Online.

Sauvage, which is also the French word for 'savage' or 'wild,' is part of the Paleolithic diet movement and claims to be first of its kind in Europe. That means serving only organic, unprocessed fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and herbs.

The truly obsessed build an entire lifestyle around the concept, mimicking caveman-era exercise. This can involve lifting boulders and running barefoot, with some even emulating the blood loss they believe Stone Age hunters might have experienced in pursuit of their dinner by donating blood every few months.

But guests at Sauvage can try 'Paleo' without feeling obligated to take on a strictly Stone Age lifestyle. Sauvage's Boris Leite-Po├žo told Spiegel Online of the growing interest in caveman cooking.

He said: 'Many people think the Paleolithic diet is just some hipster trend, but it's a worldwide phenomenon, with an online community that spans the globe. The trend is probably strongest in the United States, where people who have had enough of the fast food way of life and generations of illness have taken it up.'

The menu includes salads with olives, capers and pine nuts; gluten-free bread with nut-based butter or olive tapenades; smoked salmon with herb dressing; and other various meat and fish dishes. Gluten- and sugar-free cakes, like a spicy pumpkin pie, are available for those Stone Age diners who don't want to skip desert.

Earlier this year, thousands of people rated the Paleo diet the best way to lose weight, despite a report claiming it was ineffective. A U.S. News and World Report said the regime, otherwise known as the Caveman diet, would 'likely disappoint... and was the least effective for weight loss.'

But a poll beneath the review revealed that 3,292 people said that the diet had worked for them, compared with just 85 who said that it didn't.

Are OWS Protests Hurting Tourism?

Poll Position: More than four out of ten Americans say they would be less inclined to visit New York City because of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests. In a Poll Position national scientific telephone survey 42% of the people we asked said they would be less inclined to visit NYC because of the protests, 38% said the protests would have no impact on their decision and 17% said the protests would make them more inclined to visit the city.

The question led to noticeable differences along political lines. Republicans we polled said they would be less inclined by 62% to just 9% saying they would be more inclined and 24% telling us the OWS protests would have no impact.

Democrats countered with 29% saying the protests would make them more inclined to visit the city, 25% choosing less inclined and 43% saying the protests would not have any impact.

Among Independents, 36% would less inclined to visit, only 15% would be more inclined and 48% said the demonstrations would not have an impact on their decision.

Poll Position’s scientific telephone survey of 1,082 registered voters nationwide was conducted October 27, 2011 and has a margin of error of ±3%.

Qantas Airlines Resumes Flights

Reuters: Australia's Qantas Airways returned to the air on Monday after grounding its entire global fleet over the weekend in a bold tactic to force the government to intervene in the nation's worst labor dispute in a decade.

Qantas took the drastic step to ground all flights on Saturday, disrupting 70,000 passengers and spurring the government and its labor-market regulator to seek a quick end to hostilities between the airline and unions.

At the government's instigation, Australia's labor tribunal ordered Qantas to resume flights and banned trade unions, which have waged a damaging campaign of industrial action, from staging more strikes while negotiations continued.

"That was the only way we could bring that to a head," a bleary-eyed Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told reporters after 36 hours of round-the-clock brinkmanship.

Later, after being given the all-clear from aviation regulators, Qantas resumed flights from Sydney with an Airbus A330 bound for Jakarta. Around the country and overseas, airport departure lounges filled up with Qantas passengers keen to resume their journeys after a frustrating weekend of waiting.

German backpacker Stephanie Giertz, 28, said a Qantas flight cancellation meant she had missed the start of a tour to Australia's iconic Uluru, or Ayers Rock.

"I just hope to arrive in time for sunrise at Ayers Rock, this is my biggest dream," she said at Sydney airport. "I have felt lost... I have had enough."

Joyce, dubbed a "kamikaze" by one newspaper for effectively staging his own strike against the unions, came under fire from Canberra and also credit rating agencies for the grounding.

Moody's and Standard & Poor's signaled possible credit downgrades for the airline on Monday, citing the grounding and the risk of brand damage. Both agencies currently rate Qantas at the lower end of investment grade. But the share market, in contrast, judged Qantas and Joyce the winners, driving the airline's shares up as much as 7.4 percent. The stock closed up 4.3 percent at A$1.61.

TRIBUNAL RULING
The tribunal ruling, handed down in the early hours of the morning, gives both sides 21 days to settle the dispute or submit to binding arbitration -- an expedited process likely to favor Qantas in its battle with unions to cut costs and base more operations in Asia, a labor-law expert said.

"I think that will give Qantas a victory," said Ron McCallum, professor of industrial law at Sydney University.

Qantas says it has lost about A$70 million ($75 million)since September from industrial action in its dispute with three trade unions over pay, working conditions and its Asian plan. Joyce had described the union campaign as "death by a thousand cuts" for the 90-year-old airline.

Despite Qantas' share price rebound, the stock has lost more than a third of its value this year.

Investors worry about longer-term damage to the brand from the grounding, which disrupted travel plans for some leaders at the end of a summit of Commonwealth nations in the western city of Perth, as well as passengers in 22 airports worldwide.

In Australia, Qantas departure lounges were crammed with passengers hoping to board the first flights. Qantas is not expected to be back to full operation until Wednesday.

"I will never ever even think of flying Qantas in the future," said Robert Moore, on the airline's Facebook page.

About 2,000 passengers are stranded in London's Heathrow airport and other airports across Europe. There were chaotic scenes at Singapore's Changi airport, Australian broadcaster Seven Network said.

"I understand strikes happen, but to stop all flights without thinking about the passengers -- I don't agree with that," said Mary Keers, a 50-year-old Irishwoman waiting at Changi Airport to catch a flight to Perth.

Alysha Townsend was left with an equally bad taste from the experience.

"No one from Qantas could be contacted. I no longer want to fly with them," the 26-year-old Australian said after being grounded in Singapore, the stopover on her flight from London to Perth.

The grounding also stirred media speculation of Qantas as a potential takeover target, with a Sydney Morning Herald columnist accusing Joyce of driving "Qantas' share price into the ground, making it a sitting duck for a takeover."

Qantas was the target of an aborted private-equity bid four years ago and has continued to draw takeover rumors from time to time, despite a 49 percent limit on foreign ownership.

PM FUMING
The government welcomed the tribunal's ruling, saying it had saved the tourism industry and the wider economy from serious harm, but it turned its anger on the Qantas CEO. Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the grounding was an extreme step and criticized Joyce for giving the government only three hours notice before grounding the airline, which carries about a fifth of Australia's international passengers.

Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten said Joyce had lit a fire beneath Qantas. "It really shouldn't have needed this bushfire, industrial bushfire, to take place," he said.

The Qantas dispute has dragged on for months but escalated recently when the airline announced plans to cut 1,000 jobs and order $9 billion worth of new aircraft as part of a makeover to salvage its loss-making international business.

Union representatives said they would work with Qantas to resume flights as soon as possible but some sought to cast Joyce as a reckless manager prepared to risk the airline.

"The board should immediately sack their out-of-control CEO," said Captain Richard Woodward, vice president of the Australian and International Pilots Association.

Qantas estimated the weekend grounding of the fleet cost it about A$20 million each day, but it said the previous campaign of rolling stoppages by unions had driven down bookings and threatened its survival.

The Qantas dispute is the latest in a tide of industrial unrest as unions press for a greater share of profits amid tight labor markets and high commodity prices. Australian rival Virgin Australia said earlier it was adding 3,000 seats on its domestic network on Monday, in addition to 3,500 seats on Sunday. Virgin shares were up 5.6 percent on Monday and have outperformed Qantas this year.

Virgin Australia's airline partners, Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways and Air New Zealand AIR.NZ, said they were looking at options to increase capacity to and within Australia.

The weekend was one of Australia's busiest for travel, with tens of thousands traveling to the hugely popular Melbourne Cup horse race on Tuesday. ($1 = 0.933 Australian dollars)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

JetBlue Passengers Stranded for 7 Hours


NBC Connecticut: For seven hours, the passengers on JetBlue flight 504 have been grounded at Bradley Airport, with no bathrooms and no water, according to passengers on the plane who are Tweeting and others who contacted NBC Connecticut.

The passengers left Ft. Lauderdale, Florida just after 10 a.m., heading for Newark, but the flight was diverted to Bradley, where it had been since 1:30 p.m.

"At the three-hour mark they told us by law they had to let us off the plane. They were waiting for a tug to take us to a gate. We heard that same message at the four-hour mark, and continuing until state troopers boarded the plane for a medical emergency," said Robert, a passenger who did not want to give his last name.

A paraplegic on the flight had a medical issue, and about seven hours after the plane landed. It was at that point that police and firefighters came onboard to render medical assistance.

“Still on the plane. We haven't moved. Now EWR closed. Getting ugly in here. People yelling wanting to get off,” Andrew Carter said via Twitter just before 6 p.m.

JetBlue Flight 1013 from Boston to New York has also been grounded for hours and they ran out of water, @HedgeyeENERGY tweets. A vehicle will be towing them to one of the gates.

The airline released a statement Saturday night.

"JetBlue is doing everything possible to ensure our customers affected by today's unusual combination of weather and infrastructure issues are being well cared for," said Victoria Lucia, JetBlue spokesperson. "We apologize for the experience."

The JetBlue flights were two of 23 airplanes diverted to Bradley Airport Saturday, according to Gov. Dannel Malloy. The state was trying to move 1,000 cots to the airport late Saturday to help make stranded passengers comfortable, Malloy said.

Even after being let off their planes, frustration levels continued to be high for passengers who were stuck at the airport.

"I'll never fly JetBlue again, and I'll never fly through Connecticut again," Robert said.

Video:

View more videos at: http://nbcconnecticut.com.

Dining Out Alone? There's an App for That!

Washington Post: Heather E. Henderson sat down for lunch one recent afternoon at Bourbon Steak, the Georgetown Four Seasons restaurant where she’s a regular. She ordered raw oysters, Singapore noodles and one of the head bartender’s house-made apple sodas.

Then, she engaged her lunch companion: the iPhone that has commanded — or at least divided — Henderson’s attention on countless eating excursions.

Swipe, tap tap.

Swipe swipe, tap tap tap.

“I’m a multi-tasker,” said Henderson, the 39-year-old co-owner of an event-management company, who was Facebooking and tweeting throughout the meal. “I’m a bit of a foodie, but most of my friends are not. If limited myself to only going out with physical dining companions, I wouldn’t go out nearly as often as I do.”

Dining out alone? There’s an app for that.

In just about any restaurant these days — even fancier places where the multi-course proffer is something like performance art — you’re likely to find parties of one fiddling with their digital devices. (That’s to say nothing of people texting at the table, or otherwise checking their phones, when they’re sharing a meal with others, a related, more widely reviled phenomenon.)

The lonely experience of passively reading while waiting for the bread basket has given way to e-mailing or playing Angry Birds before attacking a 28-ounce, dry-aged, butter-poached slab of prime porterhouse ($65 at Bourbon Steak).

“It’s almost rare now that a single diner will walk in without some type of device,” said Mark Politzer, Bourbon Steak’s general manager. “It’s really changed the experience for single diners. It’s less awkward for them, but they’re more engaged in work or whatever else they’re doing on their device than in having a conversation with us or focusing on the meal.”

The development churns some restaurateurs’ stomachs. At Rogue 24 — a theatrical, envelope-pushing Washington restaurant, where the chefs work at the center of the 52-seat dining room — proprietor R.J. Cooper has even banned electronic devices. But some diners have gone, well, rogue.

“There’s not a lot we can do,” Cooper said. “They’re paying our bills. Here’s the thing: People are so attached to their damn smartphones and tablets that they’re going to use them regardless. We’re not cops about it. We can’t make them turn them off.

“I do understand it gives solo diners something to do besides eat. But we have a lot going on. Our dining experience is so interactive. ... It bothers me if they’re tweeting and Facebooking and not really getting into the experience.”

Politzer, the Bourbon Steak general manager, is more sanguine. In fact, he went shopping recently for cordless chargers that diners could use at their tables. “Ten years ago, I might have found this appalling, but restaurants have to be open-minded and adjust,” he said. “This is a common practice now and it isn’t going away.”

Eric Ziebold sees it all the time from his kitchen at CityZen, his four-star restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Southwest Washington: Solo diners with smartphones, tablets, even laptops.

The Resurgence of Small Hotels

Chicago's Felix Hotel
Chicago Tribune: The city of big shoulders historically has been famous for supporting hotels like the 2,019-room Hyatt Regency Chicago, built in the 1970s, and the 1,544-room Hilton Chicago, once the world's largest lodging property.

But they aren't making them like they used to.

In the aftermath of the recession, hotels are still popping up in Chicago but they're smaller and aim to be uber-stylish with an attitude, eschewing sameness and staidness.

"You couldn't build them like that today," hospitality consultant Ric Mandigo said of the mammoth properties that supply rooms for the city's conventions and events. "As these aren't as relevant as they once were, and with financing becoming more difficult, it just doesn't make sense to build huge hotels anymore."

Take the nine hotels that opened downtown in 2008 and 2009. They averaged fewer than 225 rooms, said the senior consultant at TR Mandigo & Co. By the end of 2011, new hotels that opened in the central business district over the past decade will have boosted the room supply by only 13 percent, he said.

Some of the city's newest hotels are gut rehabs of buildings designed and built around the time of the country's last major downturn, the Great Depression.

Consider the Old Dearborn Bank Building in the Loop.

To be converted into a 250-room hotel, with restaurants and lounges that will open in the fall of 2013, it will be the first such property launched by Virgin Hotels. The 27-story Art Deco building at 203 N. Wabash Ave. was designated an official Chicago landmark in 2003 and features terra cotta ornaments depicting medieval and mythological figures. It was designed in 1928.

"The design of the building successfully blends the overall straight-forward form of Chicago Commercial skyscrapers with the exotic ornament more typical of movie 'palaces' of the 1920s," according to the city's description of the building.

Virgin calls its concept a "four-star lifestyle hotel brand."

And that means, "a place where you experience hospitality and lodging that is utterly comfortable and functional but has vibe and style and a little something extra, something surprisingly delightful," a Virgin spokeswoman said.

Mark Eble, vice president of PKF Consulting, said "lifestyle" hotel is "certainly more a term of art than science."

"I speculate that they mean the term in the same way that designer clothes, exotic cars and certain wristwatches are purchases that convey various messages about the consumer's lifestyle," Eble said.

It's more impressive for a traveler to New York to say that he or she stayed at, say, the Standard — a boutique hotel of Andre Balazs, a onetime boyfriend of actress Uma Thurman — than to say they slept at a Hilton, among the big chains that provide consistent standards, Eble said.

No formal definition exists for "boutique," which is frequently tossed around in the hotel industry. It's like trying to define art, lodging industry observers say: "I know it when I see it."

But boutique properties typically skew upscale and are favored by younger travelers who prefer lodging with an edgier, quirkier or more fashionable look. As hotels try to avoid a cookie-cutter look, the traveling public often has strong feelings one way or another about them.

The buildings typically have fewer than 250 rooms, have smaller accommodations and aren't affiliated with national chains, or at least try to downplay any connection. Given the large number of franchised properties in Chicago already, for example, it's hard to find a brand that's not already represented, helping to fuel the number of properties claiming "boutique" or "lifestyle" status.

"One can only place so many Hiltons in downtown Chicago before the owners of the existing Hiltons object," Eble said. "In response to the boutique trend, the chains have introduced chain boutique concepts, a circumstance previously thought to be an oxymoron."

Examples include the W Hotels, affiliated with Starwood, and the Wit, which is a Doubletree, part of Hilton.

The opportunity for boutique hotels in big cities is excellent, Eble said. "There just aren't enough brands to go around, and robust demand in some markets is keeping the rooms filled without the overhead of corporate marketing and reservations expense," he said.

According to HVS, a hospitality consulting firm, marketing fees for a typical chain-affiliated hotel can average 6.3 percent of revenues, while a typical boutique, which doesn't have franchise fees, might average 4.3 percent.

Boutique hotels were recently built or are under development in such cities as Indianapolis, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, Eble said.

Public, The James, Felix and Palomar are among Chicago's new boutique hotels, Eble said. Older examples, he said, include Allegro, Burnham and Monaco. These older three, along with Palomar, are owned by San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels, which has 50 properties in 23 cities.

"The boutique segment currently represents about 1 percent of the hotel rooms in the United States," said Joe Long, Kimpton chief investment officer. "Demand for this product could be as much as the equivalent of 5 percent or more of the supply."

Ed Watkins, editor-in-chief of Lodging Hospitality magazine, said many developers are looking at boutique hotels as an economically viable way to own a hotel due to their smaller sizes and limited amenities.

Still, financing can be difficult, Watkins said. "One problem with financing is that, even in good times, the lender's first question is, 'What will the brand be?'" said Watkins, who considers the Talbott a boutique hotel. "A true boutique hotel doesn't have a brand."

The Time Has Come for Quieter Hotel Doors

New York Times: The Haggler has been traveling recently, and that can mean only one thing: a column that opens with a rant about traveling. Our subject this time is hotel doors, the kind that go ka-boom when they close.

During a recent visit to the Omni Shoreham in Washington, the Haggler was awakened by the blast of a neighbor leaving his room at 6 a.m. And the racket never ceased, because at hotels — surprise! — people enter and exit rooms throughout the day and night.

A bit of research shows that hotel doors slam shut in part because they’re cheap to install and in part because of liability concerns. Owners worry that the doors won’t fully close, which could lead to thefts and other crimes, which could lead to lawsuits.

But, obviously, a mechanism exists that closes a door fully and quietly. The Haggler encountered it this summer at the Hyatt Regency in Albuquerque. The question is why these mechanisms aren’t far more common.

Remember when lousy mattresses were the norm in hotels? Then, in the late 1990’s, some hotels started upgrading their mattresses and boasting about them, as a way to stand apart from the competition. (Westin Hotels and Resorts was a pioneer, with its “Heavenly Bed.”) A few years later, good mattresses were the norm.

You know what we need now? A door war. The Haggler wants to see hotels swap out their wretched clangers for quiet doors, and pronto. By all means, give them goofy, trademarked names, like the “Dream Latch” or the “Shhhhh Lock.” The first to take up this challenge will be hailed as a corporate hero in this space.

Qantas Dispute "Absolute Disaster" for Australian Tourism

Nine News: The decision by Qantas to suspend its domestic and international fleets will hit Australian tourism hard at a time when it was already doing it tough, a spokesman for the hotel industry said.

Tourism Accommodation Australia managing director Rodger (Rodger) Powell said the latest development in the Qantas dispute was an "absolute disaster" for the industry.

"There's undoubtedly immediate concern in terms of the impact of travelling customers, but I think the bigger concern is the longer term impact on the Australian tourism brand, both overseas and at home," he said.

"The tourism industry has just had one setback after another over the past 12 months, between fires, floods, cyclones and the high Australian dollar."

He welcomed the federal government's decision to take the matter to Fair Work Australia on Saturday night.

"We called on the prime minister a week ago to intervene, we're glad to see they have finally acted, it's just a shame its got this far," he said.

Qantas on Saturday grounded its entire domestic and international fleets indefinitely and announced a lockout of engineers, pilots and other employees beginning on Monday night.

The move comes as a result of a long-running industrial impasse between Qantas and three unions: the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA), the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA).

The federal government made an application at Fair Work Australia which will be heard at 10pm(AEDT) on Saturday in Melbourne.

A Makeover at Age 125

Los Angeles Times: The Statue of Liberty hosted a 125th anniversary celebration Friday and then decided to take off the rest of this year and part of the next.

Being a hostess, of course, can be a lot of work, but in this case, it's a lot of work that's being done to the hostess that will keep her closed for about a year.

Now the party is over, although the National Park Service emphasizes that Liberty Island will remain open during the $27.25-million renovation.

About 3.5 million people visit Liberty Island in a year, but only about only 2,500 tickets a day have been available for the inside tour of Lady Liberty, which means about two-thirds of the visitors don't go inside. Because the work is inside, the view of the statute will be largely unobstructed, the park service says.

Among the improvements to the lady are new elevators and stairways and rehabbed restrooms. Visitors will still be able to take the ferry to the island.

The United States received the statue from France, and it was dedicated Oct. 28, 1886, with President Grover Cleveland in attendance. George Cleveland, the grandson of President Cleveland who is said to bear a striking resemblance to his grandfather, attended the Friday ceremonies.

For info on visiting, see the National Park Service website. You can also subscribe to an RSS feed, follow the work on Twitter (@StatueLibrtyNPS) or like it on Facebook.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Gun Lounge to Open in Las Vegas

The Daily Mail: Las Vegas is well known as a destination where – if such things are to your liking – you can indulge in a few days of heavy gambling and partying.

But now it seems that visitors to Sin City will be able to try their hand at another, rather more dangerous pastime – shooting automatic weapons.

Before the year is out, America’s most notorious city will see the doors open on a club where guests will be allowed – and encouraged – to fire high-powered rifles.

The brainchild of Genghis Cohen, the impresario behind Tabu, an infamous club at the city’s MGM Grand Hotel, Machine Guns Vegas is set to open on December 15.

Situated just behind the Mirage Hotel near the city’s central Strip, Las Vegas’s first ‘ultra gun lounge’ will glamorize the use of firearms. Guests will be taught how to fire weapons by 'stunning gun girls’.

'The world is now ready for a "Gun Lounge",' Mr Cohen says. 'Stunning "Gun-Girls" trained in gun-handling [will] look after VIP guests.'

Mr Cohen is quick to dismiss any safety concerns, commenting that: 'All Machine Guns Vegas girls are certified Range Safety Officers through the National Rifle Association.’

And while the 'lounge' will have a luxurious atmosphere, alcohol will not be allowed on site.However, the club will actively link gun use to fashion and high-end brands.

‘Louis Vuitton and Prada accessories for your guns and ammunition are available for purchase’, Mr Cohen continues.

And the lounge will celebrate the deaths of figures such as Osama Bin Laden, with guests able to train their rifles on targets that include the former al-Qaeda leader.

‘There is a full range of targets including Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and [Muammar] Gaddafi,’ Mr Cohen adds. ‘The works.'

Husband-and-wife team Mike and Leanne Heck, who have hosted celebrities such as Mel Gibson, Paris Hilton, Cher and Ice T for shooting excursions, will also be on hand to help visitors with their weapons.

Mr Cohen says: 'Gun Ranges in America have always been tacked on to gun stores up until now. We're the first luxury, dedicated gun lounge in the world. Machine Guns Vegas has changed everything. The right to bear arms was in the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. The building blocks of this great nation.'

Qantas Suspends Operations

Grounded
The Telegraph: The Australian airline Qantas has grounded all flights with immediate effect due to an industrial dispute. 

A statement said all employees involved in the strike would be locked out from Monday evening with all international and domestic flights grounded from 0600 GMT on Saturday. Aircraft currently in the air will continue to their intended destinations, but there will be no further departures.

The airline has been hit by a series of strikes since the company's management announced a restructuring and outsourcing plan in August. The union members have expressed concerns about the proposal, saying it would result in job cuts in Australia.

Chief executive Alan Joyce called his decision "unbelievable".

The airline issued a statement saying customers booked on Qantas flights should not go to the airport until further notice. Full refunds will be given to those affected by the grounding.

Baggage handlers, engineers and pilots have been involved in the industrial action costing the company A$15m (£8.82m) a week. Total costs are estimated at A$68m (£42.8m) the company said.

Anthony Albanese, the Australian minister for transport, said the government would take action to intervene in the dispute. He said the government had received no advance notice of Qantas' plans to ground flights, and was very concerned about the decision.

Mr Albanese said the government was making an urgent application to an industrial court to bring an end to all industrial action at the company.

He said: "This will be aimed at both actions by unions and by Qantas management."

Announcing the grounding of the airline, Mr Joyce said on Saturday: "The airline will be grounded as long as it takes to reach a conclusion on this."

He said that he would not take "the easy way out" and agree to union demands. "That would destroy Qantas in the long term."

"I'm actually taking the bold decision, an unbelievable decision, a very hard decision, to ground this airline."

Port Canaveral Soars to Record Year

eTurbonews: For the first time in its history, more than 3 million multi-day cruise passengers sailed from Port Canaveral, contributing US$40 million in cruise revenue during the fiscal year ending September 30, also a record as newer and larger cruise ships and 66 additional ship calls helped boost passenger totals. Cruise traffic rose 16.08 percent with 3,100,199 passengers.
Overall, Port Canaveral’s total revenues surged dramatically to nearly US$57.8 million, eclipsing the previous Port record of US$51.2 in 2006 by 13 percent.

“We emerged from dismal economic times financially strong and focused on the future, fully accepting our role and responsibility as one of the primary economic engines for the Space Coast,” said J. Stanley “Stan” Payne, CEO, Port Canaveral, “With a pipeline full of infrastructure projects, a strong balance sheet, a business strategy focusing on our strengths, we want this to be just the first in a string of record years.”

Focusing on cruise, Payne continued: “We began this year welcoming the new Disney Dream, and we’ll end this year with Carnival’s expanded presence and the addition of the Carnival Ecstasy in November. The momentum will continue into 2012 with new ship arrivals and the opening of new port facilities.”

“As one of Brevard and Central Florida’s crucial economic engines, the success of the port represents success for the community with business opportunities reaching beyond our cruise and cargo operations,” said Joe Matheny, Chairman of the Canaveral Port Authority.

Congressman Says TSA's Chat-Downs are 'Mindless'

Jaunted: Responding to criticism like ours over the failure of TSA agents to stop a loaded gun from being checked onto an LAX flight, the security agency leaped into action this week and declared that they will make absolutely no changes to airport security procedures at the airport.

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez explained that there's no danger of having loaded guns in checked baggage, because "no one has access to them." So as long as it's true that loaded guns never ever fire accidentally, you can all go back to feeling safe now.

Speaking of which. A day before we posted about how loaded guns on airplanes make us uncomfortable, we discussed our deep skepticism about the training that TSA agents in charge of "chat-downs" were getting. Chat-downs, remember, are the Israeli-style security line interviews that TSA has been testing out in Boston-Logan and now in Detroit-Metro Airports. Agents ask you personal questions, you give personal answers, and then they read your body language to see if you're lying. In theory.

In practice the agents in charge of pat-downs reportedly only get 4 days of classroom training and 1 day of live training, and the interviews they give reportedly last around a minute. Since the point of a chat-down is to read body language, and since reading body language takes a lot of practice and requires more than a minute per interview, we wondered what TSA was doing "other than pretending to make everybody safer."

Fast forward to a few days ago, when Congressman John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, reported on what he saw when he recently toured Logan. All of this should sound very familiar to Jaunted readers:

Mica said when he stopped at Logan earlier this month he listened in on those conversations. 'It was mindless chat with every passenger,' he said — a far cry from the Israeli-style hunt the program is modeled after. 'The TSA has taken a good idea and made one of the most bureaucratic approaches you could possibly devise,' Mica said. 'It was not a thinking, risk-based approach.'

You'll be happy to know, though, that TSA responded by emphasizing how—contrary to previous reports—agents actually get five whole days of classroom training and "up to" 32 hours of live training. Again, you can all go back to feeling safe.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Statue of Liberty Webcams Switched On


As scheduled, five webcams attached to the Status of Liberty’s torch in New York harbor went live today, offering views not seen by the public in nearly a century.

Today marks the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the copper-clad monument, which was a gift from France to the people of America. Webcam viewers will be able to watch live video streams of traffic, boats and airplanes in high-resolution panoramic images showing the Manhattan skyline, the city's borough of Brooklyn and neighboring New Jersey.

Officials closed the torch to the public in 1916 during World War One following an explosion at a nearby munitions depot, blamed on German saboteurs that damaged the statue. Since then, the sweeping views have been seen only by a handful of people involved in the statue's maintenance.

"It's a heck of a climb," said Briganti, who last made the difficult ascent in the statue's right arm in the 1980s.