Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summer 2011 Whitepaper

We are pleased to announce the release of our latest whitepaper, entitled Summer 2011. The paper looks at the potential development of a challenging and value-driven lates market for holiday suppliers. Throughout the paper, we've highlighted insights on the latest query trends and have provided data which will hopefully help travel advertisers plan for the summer ahead. We welcome any feedback as well as questions on the paper and hope that it proves insightful.

Please find the paper here.

Posted by Matt Kala, Industry Analyst

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Chicago's Real "Night in a Museum"

MSNBC: If you’d like to visit Chicago this fall, and you enjoyed those "Night at the Museum" movies, then consider entering the Month at the Museum contest put on by the Museum of Science and Industry.

If you win, you’ll save a bundle on hotel fees, take home $10,000 and have some amazing vacation stories to tell about one of the world's largest science museums.

As it did last year, the 14-acre museum is seeking a short-term “roommate”: someone willing to live inside the museum for 30 days and share his or her experiences and observations with visitors on-site and online.

More than 1,500 people from around the world applied to live inside the museum last year. After the online votes were tallied, Chicagoan Kate McGroarty, a writer, director, teacher and performer, won the contest. She had her own see-through office cube, private sleeping quarters and free run of the museum from mid-October to mid-November 2010. Her days were spent interacting with guests and participating in live demonstrations; her evenings were spent poking around the museum’s exhibits and back rooms.

She also kept a video diary and blog where she chronicled everything from her handstand in a simulated tornado to the hatching of baby chicks to sleeping inside the museum’s World War II-era German submarine – which paranormal investigators examined by taking audio and video readings.

If you're envious of McGroarty's adventures, check the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry's website later this month for the official application opening date. In the meantime, the museum is taking suggestions (via Twitter and Facebook) for activities the winner might do inside the museum during the one-month stay.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Inside Boeing's Dream Factory

The Sidney Morning Herald: So this is what dreams are made of. Well, Dreamliners anyway.

I'm looking at a cutaway piece of fuselage made of carbon fibre inside Boeing's 'Future of Flight' museum. The huge exhibit shows one of the many technological advancements of the plane manufacturer's new 787 Dreamliner jet, a revolutionary design that promises greener, cleaner, more fuel-efficient and more comfortable flight.

If it ever gets into service. The Dreamliner has been delayed, and delayed again, for the past few years due to technical problems and issues with some of the suppliers. But, from all reports, the first 787 will be delivered to launch customer All Nippon Airways this year.

But Boeing's 'Future of Flight' museum, at its factory in Everett just outside Seattle on the west coast of the United States, is not what we're here for. It is merely the entrée before we get a chance to experience the main meal: the Boeing factory itself. Although Boeing's headquarters have been in Chicago since 2001, Everett is where the true heart of the legendary plane manufacturer can be found.

It's here that many of the company's aircraft are constructed, including the Dreamliner 787, the 777 and, the most famous of all Boeings, the 747 jumbo jet – the largest passenger jet in the world for almost 40 years, until the arrival of the Airbus A380 in 2007.

The company's founder, William Boeing, took an interest in air travel almost as soon as it became possible – he completed his degree in engineering in 1903, the same year the Wright brothers made their first flight. By 1910, Boeing had purchased an old shipyard in Seattle where he began building planes.

Boeing's first branch in Everett was created in 1943, but it was not until 1967 that the current factory opened, specifically designed for building the 747 jumbo. Since then, the factory has grown, and grown, to the point were it essentially IS the town. Not surprising when you learn that Boeing employs more than 75,000 people in the state, the vast majority in Everett.

The size of the main factory building alone is mind boggling. All the production lines, each, of course, larger than an aircraft hangar, are contained in one enormous building. At 13 million cubic metres, it is the largest building in the world by volume. Employees use bicycles or motorised carts to get around the huge space and a vast series of tunnels connect various parts of the plant.

Once we're kitted out with safety goggles, we head out on to the production floor of the 777 – a twin-aisle, two-engine jet used by Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand, among many others. There are several 777s on the floor in various phases of construction. We enter close to the end of the line, where a near-complete 777 is plastered with a large banner reading “The third 777 for Ethiopia Airlines”. With no paint job on the bare grey metal as yet, the banners are the only way for visitors to identify where an aircraft is headed.

It's strange to see a plane in this state of undress – particularly the engines, which are one of the last parts attached to the plane and we are able to get a good look as the exposed parts inside. From here on the ground it's possible appreciate how big those engines really are – the 777s GE90 engines are the largest in the world (over seven metres long and 3.4 metres in diameter).

There's high demand for the 300-400 seat 777s and Boeing is currently churning them out at a rate of seven per month. The planes take 49 days to build from start to finish and the factory operates 24 hours a day in order to meet demand. Despite this, Boeing is currently well behind on meeting the orders for various aircraft around the world.

While the 777 is an impressive aircraft, we're keen to move on and get a look at the two new kids on the block. The company has developed a new version of its 747 jumbo, the 747-8 – it's biggest aircraft yet and able to seat 467 passengers, 51 more than the previous 747. There are several under construction at the time of our visit, including the first one to roll off the assembly line.

Unlike other aircraft in the factory, this one does not feature a large banner identifying who the plane is for. That's because the first 747-8 to be delivered is going to a private individual, whose identity the company will not disclose. (It is, however, widely believed that the private jumbo is headed for the Middle East.)

What the interior of this luxury VIP airliner might look like is unknown, but Boeing's own design concepts for the 747-8 private jet feature a spiral staircase, vaulted ceilings, a large dining table and a library.

The Dreamliner 787 assembly has a different feel to the 777 and 747 lines. Unlike the other aircraft built in Everett, the manufacture of many of the Dreamliner's components has been outsourced, so we don't have the opportunity to see the Dreamliner in the same state of infancy as other jets. It's a shame, as I would have enjoyed seeing the jet-black carbon fibre fuselage before it was covered up. (Boeing has admitted that the use of external suppliers has been one of the reasons the Dreamliner has faced so many delays.)

The near-completed Dreamliner at the end of the line is marked as being for Air India, while Qantas has 50 of the jets on order for itself and subsidiary Jetstar. As we head back to the bus for the ride back to Seattle, we see the previously completed Dreamliners ready for the launch customer, ANA, sitting idle, lined up outside the factory building. Nearby is the strange looking Dreamlifter, a huge, modified 747 designed to deliver the pieces of the Dreamliner constructed at other locations to Everett.

Looking at the enormous cargo aircraft and the smaller 787s, which could well represent the next leap in the evolution of air travel, I consider William Boeing and his excitement at the potential of air travel all those years ago. I wonder if this is what he envisaged or if, even for him, it is beyond his wildest dreams.

Hotel Confidential

Newsweek: Dominique Strauss-Kahn won’t go down in history as the next president of France, but he may well be remembered as the man who made the “hospitality industry” a lot less hospitable.

More than a few business travelers think of sex as a hotel amenity, like free shampoo or chocolates on the pillow, and before Strauss-Kahn’s perp walk on charges that he sexually assaulted a cleaning woman, most hotels looked the other way. Not anymore. After an Egyptian businessman was carted out of New York’s swanky Pierre hotel by the NYPD late last month for allegedly sexually assaulting a maid, the hotel said it will arm all its room attendants with panic buttons. The Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South is considering doing the same; already, general manager Scott Geraghty reports that at daily meetings management is “providing specific safety guidelines to all our housekeeping staff and reiterating the importance of remaining vigilant and reporting anything that may raise suspicions while on the job.” Meanwhile, the biggest union in the hospitality industry, UNITE, is calling for hotels to provide sexual-harassment training to all employees.

All of which has left business travelers a bit skittish as they try to figure out what constitutes acceptable behavior. Is it OK to let a room-service attendant set your breakfast table while the door is shut? Does booking an in-room massage raise suspicions from the concierge that you might be looking for something more? Is it even OK to chat up the attendant in the elevator? Maybe not, to hear a Regency Hotel employee in New York, who says male guests sometimes mistake her friendliness and smiles—which are job requirements—as flirtation.

If the questions are knotty, it’s because men have a tendency to be naughty when they travel. A new NEWSWEEK/Daily Beast Poll of 400 married men found that 21 percent admit to wanting to cheat on their spouse while traveling on business—and 8 percent have actually done so (the majority of them repeatedly). Six percent of the respondents admitted to having paid for sex while traveling on business. Still others acknowledged that they’ve hit on the help: 3 percent of the men in NEWSWEEK’s poll said they’d made a pass at a hotel worker (more than half were rebuffed), and 2 percent had sex with them. Even if they’re not having sex, many businessmen let it all hang out when they travel—to judge from the 12 percent of married men who indicated they’re not always fully dressed when they let staffers into their rooms. And about that massage? Eleven percent of the married men who’ve had one say that sexual contact was involved—though not a single respondent would cop to having initiated it.

Andria Babbington, who worked for 17 years as a hotel housekeeper and is now a union representative in Toronto, says she still remembers the first time it happened to her. At 18 years old and just 95 pounds, she was sent to a room to deliver a blanket, and arrived to find the guest completely naked, lying on top of the bed. “He asked me to touch his genital area, offered me money for it. I said, ‘No, my job doesn’t go that far.’ He spent a couple minutes trying to get me to come closer and tuck him in ... Eventually I just dropped the blanket on the edge of the bed and ran out.” Yet when Babbington informed her supervisors, she found little support. “They laughed,” she recalls. “Everyone thought it was funny, and the reason they thought it was funny was because this wasn’t the first time they’d heard it. It was a ‘welcome to the club’–type thing.”

Certainly, powerful men behaving badly at hotels is hardly a novelty. NBA superstar Kobe Bryant was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel employee in Eagle, Colo., in 2003 (the case was settled out of court). In 2006 former vice president Al Gore was accused of groping and kissing a massage therapist at a hotel in Portland, Ore. And it was at a Ritz-Carlton that sports announcer Marv Albert attacked his mistress and forced her to have oral sex after she refused to have a three-way (he pleaded guilty).

The official word from hotel operators is that they don’t condone inappropriate behavior on their premises. But many business travelers know they can get almost any extracurricular activity they want without ever leaving the hotel. It starts with the helpful bellman who’s ready with strip-club recommendations, extends upstairs to the pay-per-view porn, and back down to the lobby where semipros work the bars with a wink and nod to management. Kristin Davis, the former madam of choice for Eliot Spitzer and the recently deceased composer Joseph Brooks, says that when she was fully operational she had staffers inside Manhattan’s Ritz-Carlton and Gansevoort working as middlemen for her (the Ritz-Carlton denied knowledge of the matter; the Gansevoort declined to comment). In Atlanta, one doorman who’s worked for nearly 25 years at a chic hotel says he’s developed a profitable side business charging $200 a pop to give hookers and female “groupies” the room numbers of NBA and NFL stars staying there (the players never seem to complain). “That’s the hotel business in a nutshell,” says the doorman, Anthony, who requested that his last name not be used. “They ignore a lot of things happening to their guests and to the workers.”

It’s easy to understand why. In an industry where the customer is always right, hotels can’t afford to be puritanical about their guests’ peccadilloes—especially those of the rich and powerful men who drop thousands of dollars a night on the presidential suite. And in an age when any guest with a grievance, legitimate or not, can broadcast a beef to millions of potential customers on websites like TripAdvisor and Travelocity, hotel managers bend over backward to keep the clients happy.

And so the customers’ desires can trump almost anything else—including safety and basic decency. One housekeeper who has spent a decade working at a Beverly Hills hotel where rooms cost up to $2,200 per night says her attempts to report repeated incidents of harassment have received little, if any, response. After a client grabbed her breasts, her supervisor told her to return to the room and finish cleaning. “I did as I was told,” she says. Yasmin Vasquez, a single mother who has worked in various hotels across the country, recalls how a colleague at a California hotel was sexually assaulted and reported the incident to management, only to be told she was lying. She’s pretty certain why the incident wasn’t taken seriously. “My friend had no papers, and the hotel knew she was illegal,” Vasquez says.

A longtime security supervisor for a major Las Vegas resort describes management’s approach to dealing with sexual harassment this way: “We are not police. We are not looking to call something a crime. Unless someone wants to press charges, we try not to call Metro.” That’s certainly the experience of Jack Tuckner, a Manhattan-based lawyer on the speed dial of several local women’s-rights organizations. “I know former law-enforcement people who work for the hotels who try to keep it in the family,” he says.

But now that the dirty laundry is getting aired, hotel managers and their customers are being forced to clean up their acts—at least for a while. Bo Dietl, TV personality and security consultant for the rich and famous, says he’s now advising clients to avoid any situation while traveling that might seem sexually inappropriate. “In this day and age, you gotta just watch everybody,” he says. If not for the media swarm following the alleged Strauss-Kahn attack, he says, “you think this Egyptian guy [at the Pierre] would’ve taken a hit like that? Not a shot in hell.”

Parts of Hitler's Atlantic Wall Headed to NOLA Museum

eTurbo News: For the National WWII Museum, today is not only the Normandy D-Day landings anniversary, it is also the Museum's 11th birthday. This year, the Museum is receiving a unique gift from the Utah Beach Museum at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, France – three large segments of Nazi Germany's infamous Atlantic Wall. Each piece measures 5.5 feet tall and 18 inches thick, the sections total 35 feet in length and weigh nearly 22 tons, all pockmarked from the fire of incoming Allied troops.

Completed in 1944, the Atlantic Wall was a series of fortifications Hitler ordered built to guard Europe's west coast from Allied assault. Made up of mines, pillboxes, tank traps and the famous "Rommel's asparagus," the Atlantic Wall stretched more than 3,200 miles, presenting a formidable defense for the Allied troops charged with executing the D-Day invasion.

D-Day was the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. The name stands only for "D" as in "day" since the final invasion date was unknown and weather dependent. It began early on the morning of June 6, 1944, when 156,000 servicemen from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and other Allied countries boarded an armada of more than 5,000 ships and Higgins landing craft that ferried them from English harbors to the beaches of France and into a hail of German gunfire.

The operation cost U.S. Forces 2,499 dead that day alone (total Allied deaths were 4,414), but D-Day marked the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. By June 11, with the beachheads firmly secured, ships had ferried more than 326,000 troops and more than 100,000 tons of equipment to France. Paris would be liberated on August 25. Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945.

The wall segments will be removed to make way for a significant expansion to the Utah Beach Museum. The project, led by American architect Nicolas Kelemen, includes the construction of a new hangar that will house a life-size replica of a B-26 bomber, as well as a flight simulator.

The ambitious extension and renovation has received the support of several key donors in the US, including Texas Lieutenant-Governor David Dewhurst and businessman, Gene Dewhurst. The Dewhurst brothers' father was a highly decorated pilot who led a B-26 mission over Utah Beach on June 6, 1944.

In New Orleans, The National WWII Museum will commemorate the anniversary with a full day of activities and programs including presentations by D-Day veterans Hal Baumgarten and John Pellegren.

The Lego Love Boat

USA Today: It isn't often you read about LEGO bricks at the Cruise Log. But how often does the Cruise World see something like this?

Created by 36-year-old Australian Ryan McNaught, one of only 12 certified LEGO builders in the world, the "LEGO Love Boat," as it's being called, will be on display this month in Chicago at Brickworld, the world's largest LEGO convention.

Made up of more than 250,000 LEGO bricks, the ship is McNaught's largest creation ever and designed to evoke the Princess Cruises ship that was the setting for the Love Boat television show of the 1980s.

The LEGO ship includes over 450 miniature LEGO people "enjoying a fabulous cruise and the best holiday they have ever had," McNaught writes on his website, The vessel measures over ten feet long by nearly five feet high and includes powered functions such as a moving anchor, bow thruster and propeller. The lifeboat also can be raised and lowered.

"The ship of course has all the Love Boat crew on-board as well as a whole series of '80s washed-up TV stars," quips McNaught, who builds such models in his off hours. By day he's an information technology worker in Melbourne, Australia.

McNaught tells the Cruise Log the public can come see the ship at Brickworld in Chicago on June 18 and 19.

Marriott Looks to Video Game for Recruiting

Wall Street Journal: While it's not clear if "Farmville" ever did anything to inspire future farmers, Marriott International Inc. is hoping a hotel-themed online game could be a recruiting tool for the hotel industry.

At "My Marriott Hotel," orders stack up at the restaurant. Meanwhile, the manager has to decide how many pieces of shrimp to buy for the shumai. The kitchen runs out of croutons for the Caesar salad and there's not enough money for a new stove.

"They'll find that in fact this is a very intriguing business," said David Rodriguez, executive vice president for global human resources at Marriott, speaking about the game, which is making its debut this week on Facebook. The game "will demystify it."

Unlike Zynga Inc.'s "Farmville," which was developed as a revenue-generating game, Marriott's title is part of an emerging trend of using computer games for recruiting. Nearly a decade ago the U.S. military introduced America's Army, which proved to be a wildly popular and effective tool that cost very little, according to Ethan Mollick, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School who has written about the game.
Mr. Rodriguez declined to provide details on the cost of developing Marriott's game.
Siemens AG unit Siemens Industry Inc. in March brought "Plantville," which simulates the experience of being a manager for a bottling facility, a vitamin factory or a plant that builds trains.
Another genre of service-industry simulation games—sometimes called time-management games—turns the inner workings of a diner, hotel, nail salon or other type of service business into a game generally played on mobile devices.
In "Hotel Dash" from PlayFirst Inc., users simulate the actions of Flo, who rushes to deliver luggage, deliver room-service orders and decorate a dilapidated hotel into a more high-class venue.
More than Fun

Marriott says "My Marriott" will be more realistic.
"Those are great because they brand the hospitality industry and get people thinking about hotels and travel, but I think people are smart enough to know" the difference, said Susan Strayer, a human-resources branding expert at Marriott who helped develop its game with input from people within the company who operate restaurants and hotels.
"That's why our game is so appealing," Ms. Strayer said. "Not only am I having fun but I'm actually getting an understanding of what it takes to run a kitchen. "
Ms. Strayer's group at Marriott has the challenge of attracting newcomers to around 50,000 hotel positions this year, many in emerging markets such as India and China, which don't have strong hospitality-industry traditions.
The company hired Evviva Brands LLC, a recruitment-branding consulting firm, to develop a solution. Evviva Chief Executive David Kippen said he came up with the idea for a social-media game while on a market-research trip to India.
The first iteration includes only one game, which depicts a Marriott kitchen. The player buys ingredients, such as lettuce for the hamburgers and cheese for the spaghetti, after being given an array of options in quality and price. The player also hires staff, choosing from a range of experiences and salaries, and buys stoves and kitchen utensils. During rounds in the kitchen, players have to direct tickets to cooks and inspect food orders for quality before sending them out to customers.
The company says it will roll out games depicting other aspects of the hotel business and will introduce mobile-phone play next year.
Wharton's Prof. Mollick said most companies that have attempted such games have found it difficult to create a game that is enough fun to be effective marketing and realistic enough to attract the kinds of people to a job who would be suited to it.
The 'Holy Grail'

He said the "holy grail" of recruiting games—which would market a job and determine people who would be good at it—so far remains elusive.
Ms. Strayer said Marriott's game is designed to be purely marketing and shouldn't be confused with an attempt to evaluate and select employees. That doesn't mean there's not an important dose of reality, however.
"You get to see what kinds of decisions people have to make when they're running the hotel," Mr. Rodriguez said. "You better pay attention to inventory and make sure you're not running out of ingredients."

SeaWorld Looks Beyond Theme Parks

Orlando Sentinel: Freed from the constraints of owners more interested in brewing beer than building theme parks, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is accelerating plans to expand into new businesses, including movies, television and hotels.

After flirting with the idea for years, the Orlando-based theme-park operator will release a feature film this month through SeaWorld Pictures, the company's new film division. The sea-turtle documentary, expected to reach as many as 400 theaters this summer, is the first of what executives hope will be a long line of SeaWorld-produced nature films that capitalize on the company's reputation for marine-life expertise and buttress it against criticism from anti-captivity activists.

SeaWorld wants to make more than movies eventually. Company executives say they are exploring new projects in television, publishing and consumer products.

At the same time, SeaWorld is working on plans to build its first hotel. And it says it is making progress toward its first international theme park, with the most likely location somewhere in Southeast Asia.
With such projects, SeaWorld is borrowing a page from the playbooks of other large theme-park operators such as the Walt Disney Co., all of whom are searching out new sources of growth to confront what experts say is a nearly maxed-out American theme-park market. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has devoted much of its capital spending in recent years to building up "flanker" businesses, such as cruises and time shares, and to international expansion, including the $4.4 billion Shanghai Disneyland resort scheduled to open in about five years.

SeaWorld's expansion plans come even as it pumps nearly $200 million this year into new rides and shows for its 10 existing U.S. amusement parks, which collectively draw more than 20 million visitors annually.

The first glimpse of SeaWorld's plans will come June 21, when "Turtle: The Incredible Journey" premieres in a 3-D theater at SeaWorld San Diego. The documentary follows aloggerhead sea turtle on a 9,000-mile journey from hatching to maturity to a return to its Florida nesting grounds.

Developed by Hannover House, a small production studio, the film was initially released in Europe. SeaWorld purchased the film's North American distribution rights and made it the launch film for its new SeaWorld Pictures banner.

Big-ticket construction projects are also on the horizon. Atchison said SeaWorld is "actively pursuing" plans to build one or more hotels at some of its existing U.S. parks.

"It's a good fit with our business," Atchison said. "I don't know that it makes sense in every market where we have a park. But certainly there are some markets where I think we could get in the hotel business in an on-property format that helps better the guest experience."

Read Entire Article

Sunday, June 5, 2011

'Miracle on the Hudson' Plane Takes Final Journey

Daily Mail: It captivated the world two years ago when it safely landed on the Hudson River, and now the so-called Miracle on the Hudson plane is on the move again. This time, however, the river crossing it made was a lot slower and a lot drier.

The US Airways plane was rolled out of a warehouse in Harrison, New Jersey, on Saturday and transported on the back of a huge truck across the Passaic River. From there it began the trek to a North Carolina museum where it will become a piece of American history.

Accompanied by a convoy of police cars and film crews, the damaged Airbus A320 eased out of the J. Supor and Sons warehouse lot where it has sat since the splashdown in January 2009 made its pilot, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, a national hero. With traffic stopped and people rolling down their windows to take pictures with their cell phones, the flatbed truck crossed the river into Newark, took a left on to Route 21 South and then a right toward the heart of downtown.  The caravan passed the Prudential Centre Arena before turning on to Broad Street, Newark's main drag, for a few blocks before heading south west. 

US Airways Flight 1549 was bound for Charlotte from New York on January 15, 2009, when it struck a flock of geese after take off and lost power in both engines. Mr.  Sullenberger, who came to be known as Sully, considered trying to land at nearby Teterboro Airport in New Jersey but quickly recognised that would be too risky. He decided to touch the plane down in the middle of the frigid Hudson.

Within minutes, rescue boats and commuter ferries arrived and eventually rescued all 155 passengers and crew. The riveting scene was captured in photographs showing passengers lined up along the wings of the slowly sinking plane. This time, on land, the plane's trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Carolinas Aviation Museum is expected to take about a week.

Museum president Shawn Dorsch said the journey will take so long because the 120ft-long plane must take back roads to avoid obstacles such as toll booths, bridges and overpasses. The wings were shipped separately.

Four hours after it left Harrison, the plane had gone about 25 miles to Piscataway, just north of the Rutgers University campus, according to a tracker on Supor and Sons' website. Mr.  Dorsch said Capt. Sullenberger is scheduled to speak at a reception at the museum on June 11 after the plane has arrived.

Other flight crew members also are expected to attend. Mr.  Dorsch said he expects many passengers to visit the plane over the next several months.

In a tour of the plane's cabin in March, food trays could still be seen in their slots in the plane's rear galley. Those have since been removed, but the cabin has been preserved largely as it was on the day of its final flight.

Dolly Parton Launches Pirate Show

KLEWTV: Dolly Parton has hoisted the Jolly Roger on the South Carolina coast with the opening of Pirates Voyage, the new dinner theater show that takes the place of her popular Western-themed Dixie Stampede.

"We just needed to do something new and different," the singer said Friday, in town for the first show in the production that features actors portraying pirates and mermaids and also has real horses and sea lions. "We have been successful for 18 or 19 years but pirates is a great theme - children love it, seniors love it," Parton said, sitting on the set created in the building that housed the Stampede during its 19-year run.

That show closed last year. An $11 million renovation of the building includes a 15-foot, 750,000-gallon indoor pool. At either end are 30-foot pirate galleons while the sunken wreck of a third ship sits in the middle of the set. Parton says she started thinking of a pirate-themed show about five years ago.

She said it had nothing to do with the "Pirates of the Caribbean" film franchise, but "that's a good plus. It's wonderful the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' No. 4 came out and it's No. 1 in the world. The timing couldn't be better but we didn't base it on that as much as having a wonderful theme."

"We’ve been talking about this for a few years. We thought it would be more fitting being here on the beach just to have something like that and we didn't want to build an additional one so we just thought we would convert the Dixie Stampede," she said. Parton wrote the musical score with collaborator Mark Brymer and said it was a challenge.

"It was kind of like writing '9 to 5 The Musical.' I had never done anything like that either. I love having a challenge," she said. Parton appears in the new production, welcoming the audience in a video, singing on the soundtrack and, through computer technology, appearing to swim with the mermaids. Depending on how the Myrtle Beach show does, she may attempt to bring it to other seaside markets.

"It was always planned for Myrtle Beach. We had a Dixie Stampede in Orlando and it didn't do very well," she said. "We're going to try this and see. If this is going well here, we may do some more beach destinations with the pirate theme."

She said some people questioned closing a sure thing, the Dixie Stampede, and setting out in a new direction. "We sank $11 million into something that was already working but we have to take some chances in business," she said.

But, the singer added, "we didn't feel like we could really lose on this when we're on the water. The excitement about it is more already than we had for Dixie Stampede.

The new pirate show is the second major new attraction to open in Myrtle Beach this season. In May, the tallest Ferris wheel in the eastern United States, a 200-foot-tall, $12 million wheel with a million LED lights and 42 air-conditioned gondolas, called the SkyWheel, started spinning in this popular beach resort on the South Carolina coast.

Wallendas Re-enact Fatal High-Wire Act

NewsOK: Two members of a famed acrobatic family commemorated patriarch Karl Wallenda on Saturday by completing the stunt that killed him in 1978, walking between two towers of a seaside hotel on a wire 100 feet above the ground, without a net.

Nik Wallenda said he had planned to walk by himself across a 300-foot-long wire, but his mother convinced him to let her join him. “I’ve been mentally prepared my entire life for this,” he said. “I’ve seen the video of my great-grandfather falling hundreds of times."

He said he initially rejected a request by his mother, Delilah Wallenda, to join him. “Just because of safety,” he said. “We’ve obviously lost several family members doing this.”

But Delilah Wallenda, who is in her late 50s, eventually won him over. The mother-and-son team walked slowly toward each other, balancing on a wire as wide as a nickel. Nik Wallenda was wearing moccasin-style shoes that his mother had made. He carried a 45-pound balancing pole, while Delilah Wallenda carried a 25-pound pole.

They met at the middle. Delilah Wallenda sat on the wire while her son stepped over her in slow motion. She then struggled slightly to get up before both continued toward the towers of the Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza Hotel. Dozens of onlookers on balconies and the street below gasped as Nik Wallenda knelt and steadied himself just feet before he completed the walk.

The Wallendas obtained permission to do the stunt about two months ago so they could commemorate German-born Karl Wallenda, who was 73 when he fell to his death in 1978 after a lifetime of spectacular acrobatics. He was the founder of the “The Flying Wallendas” high-wire act.

Police Helicopter Chases Starbucks Tip Jar Thieves

Daily Pilot: Police arrested three men Thursday afternoon after a chase involving a police helicopter, which started when the suspects allegedly stole money from a tip jar at a local Starbucks, authorities said.

Officers arrested two men and a male juvenile around Santa Ana Avenue and Ogle Street. Police first responded to a call about three men stealing tip money from the Starbucks at 250 E. 17th St., and then discovered that the suspects were fleeing the scene in a stolen car, said Sgt. Jeff Van Es, an Airborne Law Enforcement pilot with the Santa Ana Police Department.

The call about the stolen tip money came in about 12:20 p.m., and authorities learned that the car had been stolen in San Bernardino, said Costa Mesa Police Lt. Bryan Glass. Two of the suspects posed as decoys while the third made off with the tip money. The three suspects had likely driven to the Starbucks in the stolen car, he said.

After police caught up with the car, its three occupants got out and took off by foot in separate directions. One of them ran into a store where he was arrested. The other two eluded a pursuing officer, but they were found hiding in residential yards after another officer spotted them and their descriptions matched, police said.

Police had set up a perimeter around Santa Ana and Ogle where about seven officers responded along with a police helicopter, Van Es said.

Tourism Driving Growth in New York, California, Florida

Wall Street Journal: A rebound in tourism is helping drive economic growth in three key U.S. markets despite data, including Friday’s jobs report, that shows the overall recovery is slowing.

There’s been a pickup in the number of tourists and business travelers in New York City, Southern California and Central Florida in the past six to 12 months, which has boosted state and local sales tax revenue, hotel occupancies and employment in the leisure and hospitality sector.

Recent jobs data suggest hospitality is at least one bright spot in a sputtering economy, analysts said.

“It’s more than just a silver lining,” said Steven Cochrane, managing director at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pa. “The recession is over and one of the reasons why is travel and tourism spending in these markets.”

Though the leisure and hospitality industry lost 6,000 jobs in May, it added about 126,000 jobs during the previous three months — accounting for about 20% of total non-farm payroll gains. Economists say pent-up demand is fueling domestic tourism, as families begin to take trips postponed during the recession. Visits from international travelers have increased too, prompted in part by the weaker dollar.

Sean Snaith, an economics professor at the University of Central Florida, said many people feel more secure about their jobs and are taking trips again. Rachel Atkinson, the district manager for a staffing agency in Colorado Springs, said her commission income rebounded last year, which helped her and her husband take their daughter to Orlando for a national cheerleading competition.

“It would have been tougher for us,” she said.

Occupancy rates and the average daily rate hotels are rising in these markets, according to Smith Travel Research Inc. In the Los Angeles-Long Beach market, occupancy levels in April increased to 71.1% from 66.3% a year earlier, while the average daily rate increased to $119.38 from $114.54. In New York City, average daily room rates rose to $236.41 from $217.19.

In Central Florida, the rebound in tourism has been dramatic. The two major airports that serve Orlando saw passenger traffic increase 60.57% the first three months of 2011, according to Moody’s Analytics.

Last month Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said the city would move forward with the construction of a $425 million state-of-the-art performing arts center. The project, funded by a six-cent Orange County resort tax, was delayed during the recession.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Hotel Push for In-Room Movies

New York Times: At a dinner party in Tucson over the weekend, the subject of movies came up. The five friends there were all business travelers, all movie buffs.

One is semiretired but is still a frequent traveler and goes to movie theaters frequently. Yet, he is still unable to see a handful of the very latest and most talked-about movies. As a result of the archaic studio distribution systems, many of the cutting-edge films have not yet come to theaters outside of the major marquee cities like New York and Los Angeles.

Two of the others at the party, including myself, occasionally go to the movie theater but more often catch up on films later on DVD. The other two, very frequent international travelers, never go to theaters, and instead see movies, including current ones, on in-flight entertainment systems offered by many premium international airlines. Some of the systems offer more than 100 on-demand high-definition recent movies on big flat in-seat screens.

None of us, however, said we watched a movie in a hotel room.

That reality underscores challenges facing LodgeNet Interactive, the major supplier of hotel-room movies and television. Challenges also face the hotel industry itself, digging out of a recession, still perplexed about what guests are willing to pay for in in-room on-demand entertainment. The chains are also struggling to weigh the cost-benefit of investing in new hardware like big flat-screen high-definition screens for hundreds, or thousands, of rooms they may operate in any given hotel.

LodgeNet provides interactive video service in about 1.5 million rooms in 9,000 hotels in North America. This week, the company plans to announce a new initiative, VOD 2.0, to broaden its appeal to travelers.

Instead of selling a selection of video on-demand movies at a single price, LodgeNet has revamped its system to offer a wider range of movies at various price levels, including budget prices for older movies. But the main feature is a new-release feature that LodgeNet says will provide the earliest availability, outside of movie theaters, for a select number of movies.

This move comes just weeks after DirecTV, whose satellite TV service is mostly used in homes, introduced DirecTV Cinema, which charges $29.99 for high-definition newer movies like “Just Go With It,” starring Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler. It was available about 60 days after opening in theaters, and will become available on usual cable on-demand menus or on DVDs and Blu-ray. LodgeNet says its VOD 2.0 for hotels has a wider selection of these earliest nontheatrical-release movies, at a price of about half what DirecTV charges.

Will people pay this much for a hotel-room movie, especially as the trend rapidly grows in travelers bringing with them more sophisticated personal mobile technologies like iPads? With free cable television choices in rooms, with the Internet and myriad other diversions already available in ever-wider options on personal mobile devices, is there a real growth market for selling hotel-room movies?

In hotels, market research shows that “the consumer profile of the guest improves with more trips made and higher affluence; that this group is huge consumers of entertainment,” said Derek White, the president of LodgeNet’s Interactive division. “In important terms, they also are very important in helping to socialize new movies.”

He is referring to the argument that some airlines also make — that the studios should be working harder to get newer releases in front of business travelers. These travelers, like my friends, are movie buffs who spread their interest via word of mouth.

In general, movie theater owners, who have been big powers in Hollywood since the silent-film era, do not like any suggestion that might keep anyone away from the box office. But as on-demand personal and in-home video grows, battles over movie distribution schedules are intensifying.
Word of mouth recommendations from people with wide social networks, like business travelers, can actually be part of a newer movie’s promotion and “help these movies take hold” in the market, said Mr. White. “It won’t really steal business away from the main theaters, which is the big issue right now with premium VOD that has the theater owners up in arms.”

It’s going to be interesting to watch, so to speak. Right now, only 16 percent of LodgeNet’s hotel-room base has the requisite big-screen, high-definition TV sets. But as the hotel industry gains better economic traction, “the transition to high-def is really back in gear,” said Mr. White, who added: “For those hotel rooms that actually have gone to the flat screens and hi-def, we’re seeing 40 percent more revenue. You’re just more likely to plunk down $15 for a movie if you can enjoy it on a big beautiful screen in your room.”

American Airlines Takes Salads Off Menu

Terminal U: American Airlines has taken green salads off its menus on flights out of Europe, as more people are struck down with the “super-toxic” strain of E.coli outbreak in Europe. The deadly outbreak first struck in northern Germany and has since killed 18 people across Europe - including three in the US who had recently travelled to northern Germany.

American Airlines has therefore decided to temporarily take green salad off the menu for flights departing Europe.
The airline said on its website: ”We have taken proactive steps to pull all the green salads, lettuce and tomato garnishes in all cabins on all flights out of Europe. We are replacing the salad menu items with other menu options to pre-empt any risk and alleviate concerns.”

“We will closely monitor and take direction from the local health authorities and the World Health Organization and return to the original menu when we believe it is safe to do so.”

Lufthansa’s in-flight caterer, LSG Sky Chefs is also understood to have pushed salad to the side until mid-June, tweaking its menu with a substitute. The killer bug was initially believed to be linked to contamination of cucumbers imported by Spain to Germany. But scientists still cannot find the food source of the infection.

Kayak Rated Fastest Travel Web Site

MSNBC: Just a few seconds make the difference between browsing for a plane ticket and buying one, according to travel experts. If you’re addicted to quick clicks, a new 15-month study has ranked the speed of travel companies’ websites – down to a millisecond.

The study, conducted by Compuware Gomez for USA Today, was based on the premise that many consumers will click away from a website if it’s too slow to load or complete a transaction. “Too slow” is not exactly poky. Quoting Forrester Research, the paper says online shoppers expect webpages to load in two seconds or less; 40 percent of shoppers will abandon a page that takes three or more seconds to appear.

“Customers simply don’t want to wait,” Forrester analyst Mike Gualtieri told USA Today. “There is a performance arms race among the travel websites because they know how important this is."

So, who’s winning the war? Kayak ranked as the fastest of all travel sites. With a homepage load time of 1.231 seconds, the booking service beat 45 other online travel agents and all airline and hotel sites.
Among the 12 airlines monitored, the top spots for speediest homepage went to AirTran at an average of 2.065 seconds, followed by Delta, Frontier and Hawaiian, all of which clocked in at under 2.8 seconds. Alaska Airlines was the slowest, at 5.12 seconds, although company spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey said the airline was posting faster times since redesigning its website in April.

On the hotel front, the study looked at 47 booking sites and found that 10 beat the two-second mark. They included Marriott, Best Western, Holiday Inn and, with Marriott and Best Western taking first and second, respectively.

Girl Dies After Fall From Ferris Wheel

Ferris Wheel at Morey's Mariner's Landing Pier 
Phillycom: An 11-year-old Atlantic County girl on a year-end school trip to a Boardwalk amusement park died Friday afternoon after she fell from a Ferris wheel. Abiah Jones, of Pleasantville, was at Morey's Mariner's Landing Pier with classmates from the PleasanTech Academy Charter School when she plummeted from the 156-foot-high Giant Wheel about 12:30 p.m., authorities said.

Harrolt Butron, a park patron, saw the girl land on a metal platform at the bottom of the ride. "Everyone came over," Butron, of Puerto Rico, said in Spanish. "They tried to do CPR," but Abiah remained motionless, he said.

Donnalee Landwher was with her family at the popular amusement pier at Schellenger Avenue and the Boardwalk and saw paramedics working on the girl. "When I saw them doing chest compressions, I knew it was bad," said Landwher, of Monroeville. "I knew they were trying to revive somebody, and it wasn't going to happen."

Students in green shirts, who appeared to be part of a group, were stuck in the wheel's open-air gondolas while medics tended to Abiah, Landwher said. She was transported to Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May Court House and pronounced dead at 1:14 p.m., Wildwood police said.
Wildwood police and the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office were investigating the accident with members of the state's Department of Community Affairs, which conducts annual inspections of amusement rides.

Like hundreds of other students around the region, Abiah was on a field trip to the park, authorities said. She was alone in one of the Ferris wheel's 40 cars when she fell out, said Wildwood Commissioner of Public Safety Anthony Leonetti. It was unclear Friday evening if the ride had been in motion or how high Abiah was when she fell, he said.

The fall did not appear to be due to mechanical error, police and the amusement park company said.
The Giant Wheel, built in 1985, is one of the tallest Ferris wheels on the East Coast. It last passed inspection March 17, said Hollie A. Gilroy, a spokeswoman with the Department of Community Affairs.

Employees check the rides several times a day, said Tim Samson, a Morey's spokesman. The wheel's cars have a locking gate but no seat belts, he said. "On behalf of the Morey family and staff, I offer our sincerest thoughts and prayers to the family," Will Morey, president and chief executive officer of the Morey Organization, said in a statement.

An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 students swarmed the amusement pier Thursday and Friday during its annual Education Extravaganza, said Lindsey Young, a Morey's spokeswoman. For 17 years, the park has hosted the event for students from grades 3 to 12 to learn about ecology, peer leadership, and physics.

The accident was the first fatality of a patron in the history of the organization, Young added. The trip to Morey's is a much-anticipated school pilgrimage, said Haddon Township Superintendent Mark Raivetz. More than 160 eighth graders from Haddon were at the park Friday. "It is one thing our eighth graders have looked forward to," he said. "You know about this from the time you're in the first grade. It's one of those township traditions."

The district sent an e-mail to the school community Friday afternoon to allay parents' fears that their children had been injured. "When you kiss your kids goodbye in the morning and say, 'You're going to have a wonderful, fun day,' this is the furthest thing from your mind," Raivetz said.

Police interviewed Haddon students who were near the Ferris wheel when the girl fell, Raivetz said.
Nicole Kramer, 12, a sixth grader at Upper Township Middle School in Cape May County, said she and her classmates learned of Abiah's death on the bus ride home. A teacher asked for a moment of silence. "I know three or four girls who saw it happen," Nicole said. "I was going to ride the Ferris wheel at the time it happened, but after, I was too scared. I was sobbing."

According to a 2010 report from the National Safety Council, the estimated number of amusement ride-related injuries on fixed-site rides nationwide was 1,086 or 0.6 per million patron rides. Colleen Mangone, a spokeswoman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, said the odds of being seriously injured at one of the United States' 400 fixed-site amusement parks are 1 in 9 million.

Morey's Piers, family-owned since 1969, has more than 100 rides on 18 acres at the Shore. Its three amusement piers closed Friday afternoon and were scheduled to reopen Saturday morning.

Friday, June 3, 2011

RIP: Queenie the Waterskiing Elephant

Sydney Morning Herald: A waterskiing elephant whose unique talent garnered her international fame in the late 1950s and early 1960s has died in the southern United States. Queenie was put to sleep earlier this week at the age of 59 after her health deteriorated, according to the theme park in South Georgia where she spent her retirement from performing.

The elephant was just six months old when she was bought in a New York City pet store in 1953 by her former owner Liz Dane. Soon after, Dane began training Queenie to waterski at a Florida theme park, where the animal performed her stand-up, lie-down routine to music several times a day for 15 years. She also played the harmonica.

Dane, who performed alongside Queenie, said the death of one of the biggest celebrities of the age was ''extremely sad''.

''I cried, but then when I reflected back on things I realised that it was news I was bracing myself for,'' she said. One of the oldest Asian elephants in North America, Queenie retired to the Wild Adventures water and theme park in 2003.

Al Kordowski, director of zoological operations at the theme park in Valdosta, said the decision was made to euthanase Queenie due to her declining quality of life and chronic health problems.Wild Adventures general manager Bob Montgomery told the Valdosta Daily Times: ''We are comforted by the fact that we were able to give her a great place to live out the rest of her life and are thankful for the time we were able to share her with our guests and our team members. She will be missed.''

The average life expectancy for Asian elephants is between 50 and 70 years.

Apple Store the Most Photographed Site in New York

eTurboNews: When you think of tourists taking photos in New York, you think of the Empire State Building, Times Square or maybe Central Park. But according to new research the most photographed location in New York is actually the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue.

Researcher Eric Fishcher made a map of where tourists take photos using information from millions of pictures uploaded to website Flickr. The iconic glass cube above the underground Apple Store came top of his list of photographed sights in the Big Apple - possibly because when consumers purchase iPhones they immediately take pictures in the store.

Other popular spots for snaps included the Rockefeller Center, Columbus Circle and Times Square. The researcher used the geotags of photos uploaded to the site to create a heat map of popular photo opportunities.One factor in the popularity of the Apple Store could be because of the large number of iPhone users who use the photo-sharing site. Last month the iPhone 4 was on track to become the most-used camera on the site.

Mr Fishcher found that the flagship Apple store was much more photogenic than stores in other U.S. cities such as Chicago, which were not ranked as highly.

Most photographed locations in New York:

1. Apple Store, Fifth Avenue
2. Rockefeller Center
3. Columbus Circle
4. Times Square

Transportation Dept. Cracks Down on Deceptive Ads

MSNBC: The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is once again penalizing airlines that practice deceptive price advertising. In separate cases, the agency on Thursday fined Continental Airlines and US Airways to the tune of $120,000 and $45,000, respectively.

“Passengers have the right to know how much they will have to pay when they buy an airline ticket,” DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement, “and we will continue to take enforcement action when these rules are violated.”

In the Continental case, the agency found that the company’s website failed to include fuel surcharges in its listed fares. In one example, a fare from San Jose, Calif., to San Salvador, El Salvador, was listed at $298 on the first two pages, but increased to $538 once the fuel surcharge was added on the third page.

“We immediately responded to the DOT’s concerns and addressed the issue,” said Continental spokeswoman Julie King. In the US Airways case, DOT said that the airline’s website advertised a fare to Rome of $659 with an asterisk noting additional taxes and fees, but provided no details on the type or amount of fees involved.The airline had not responded to a request for comment as of press time.

The fines are the latest development in what many consider DOT’s heightened focus on enforcement. The agency has fined 26 airlines and travel companies for a variety of violations this year, according to the Dallas Morning News’ Airline Biz Blog.

Those infractions range from failure to disclose code-share flights to operating unauthorized air transportation. All told, the agency has handed out almost $3.4 million in fines this year, according to the blog.

Thailand Seeks to Ban Buddha Tattoos

Associated Press: Thailand's Culture Ministry says foreign tourists should be barred from getting Buddhist tattoos while visiting because the practice is culturally insensitive.

Culture Minister Niphit Intharasombat said in a statement that his ministry has been receiving complaints from residents that tattoo parlors are etching sacred images of Buddha and other religious images onto the skin of non-Buddhist visitors across the country."Foreigners see these tattoos as a fashion," Niphit said in the statement posted on his ministry's website Thursday. "They do not think of respecting religion, or they may not be aware" that it can be offensive.

Thailand is mostly Buddhist, and Buddha statues and images here are considered sacred objects of worship. Millions of foreigners visit the Southeast Asian nation annually. Niphit said his ministry had called on tattoo parlors nationwide to halt the activity. According to the country's government news agency, NNT, he also asked provincial governors to "inspect tattoo studios and seek their cooperation."

NNT also reported that Niphit is pushing for a law banning the practice. However, Ladda Thangsupachai, director of the ministry's Cultural Surveillance Center, said Thursday that tattooing religious images is not yet illegal under Thai law.

West Virginia Coal Tourism?

Bluefield Daily Telegraph: The ongoing Spike TV series “Coal” is helping rekindle a level of coalfield-based tourism not seen in the region since the release of the 1999 motion “October Sky.”

With millions of viewers tuning in each week to watch the unscripted McDowell County-based reality series, we aren’t surprised to hear of renewed tourism interest in the county’s coalfields. Local officials are already reporting a new wave of visitors to the area, including some who are hoping to learn more about the region’s coal industry. These tourists will be looking for places to visit, and for people with knowledge about the coal industry to talk to.

We hope McDowell County officials are ready to seize upon any influx of tourism interest generated by the television show. There are still three more episodes to air. The same can be said for the ongoing interest in Cape Coalwood, and the true story of the Rocket Boys of McDowell County.

With both a movie, and now a television series to brag about, there is certainly a lot of tourism potential in McDowell County — and most of it, including the story of the Rocket Boys — is related to coal. While the television series “Coal” could be an emerging tourism boon, a looming big-screen torpedo is threatening to deliver an unwelcomed and unnecessary black eye to the region’s historic coalfields.

It seems that environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has been busy filming a new documentary that will be hitting theaters this month. The movie targets the process known as mountaintop mining removal. The documentary, called “The Last Mountain,” is the product of several dozen trips to West Virginia over the years by Kennedy, a longtime opponent of mountaintop mining removal.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Kennedy calls the forthcoming documentary a fair-minded exploration of the facts aimed at educating and outraging the public. Outraging? That doesn’t sound very balanced. We are told the coal industry is granted only a cameo in the movie, with only a brief defense of coal mining offered by West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney.

If Kennedy wanted to be truly fair, he should have allocated equal time to the industry in his new documentary. Instead, the movie argues that the practice of mountaintop mining removal is so destructive and harmful that it should be illegal. This doesn’t sound like a fair conclusion, but Kennedy is entitled to his opinion in “The Last Mountain.”

Fortunately, we still have “Coal” on Spike TV if we really want to get an accurate, unscripted and unbiased opinion of the region’s coal industry. And no movie ticket is required.

Court Orders American Airlines Flights Back on Orbitz

Consumer Reports: An Illinois court ruled this week that American Airlines must list all of its flight information on the Chicago-based travel website Orbitz. The airline had previously listed such information with Orbitz, until it pulled all listings last December amidst disputes between the two companies.

This is the latest chapter in an ongoing battle between American Airlines and travel websites. American is trying to shift sales to its website, and thus eliminate the fees associated with tickets sold through sites such as Orbitz.

Before this latest update, the Texas-based American Airlines had previously taken Orbitz to court in that state, claiming that the travel site was using monopoly tactics. At that time, Orbitz told the press that American was trying to limit customer choice and reduce competition. American filed a similar suit against Expedia, which resulted in that website dropping American flights from its listings. In the Texas case against Orbitz the judge had decided that American Airlines flights should come off the website. This latest ruling reverses that decision.

In a statement Orbitz said:
“This reinstatement of American Airlines full schedule of flights on and Orbitz for Business is a win for transparency, consumer choice and for all of our mutual customers.”

Famous Auschwitz Sign Headed to Exhibition Center

The Guardian: The council that oversees the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp has ruled that the Auschwitz sign will not return to its original spot.

It was taken for repairs following a 2009 theft. Pawel Sawicki, a spokesman for the memorial site in southern Poland, said the sign bearing the Nazi slogan "Arbeit macht frei" (Work sets you free) will be housed in an exhibition centre.

Sawicki added that the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum, Piotr Cywinski, proposed to keep the sign in a secure indoor centre. This was accepted by the International Auschwitz Council at a two-day meeting that ended on Thursday. The council is made up of Holocaust survivors, historians and others.

Noah's Ark at the 2012 Olympics?

The Telegraph: Johan Huibers, an eccentric Dutch Christian, has spent around £1 million ($1.6 million) building the "Ark" after dreaming about a great flood sweeping Holland. He saw the dream as a signal to spread God's message.

The vessel is 450ft long and 75ft wide and will be stuffed with pairs of model animals, while an aviary with free-flying live birds will take up most of the enormous deck house. Mr Huibers, 60, who is married, found the inspiration for the project 20 years ago but only started construction on the river at Dordrecht, near Rotterdam, three years ago, against the advice of his wife.

Twenty-five barges held together by a steel frame form the base of the ship, which also holds two conference rooms capable of hosting 1,500 people. The timbers are Swedish pine, a choice Mr Huibers made because Noah, the Biblical Ark's captain, was told by God to use "resin wood". Mr Huibers recently wrote to Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, to ask for permission to bring his Ark to London for the Olympic Games next summer and moor it in the capital.

The Dutchman said he hoped to use it to inspire children with the Biblical story of Noah and how he, his crew and the animals survived the flood which inundated everything else in the world and washed it clean of sin.

Pangot : Driving through clouds

Hovering clouds and cool breeze greeted us almost halfway on the Kaladhungi – Nainital road. It was a pleasant respite from the shearing Delhi heat. Not much have changed on the Kaladhungi – Nainital road since my last visit about 5 years back except for the entry fee to Nainital has doubled to 100 bucks. This is more than any single toll one pay for the Delhi – Jaipur expressway. Such type of open looting of tourists by government agencies is one reason why I hate Uttarakhand hill stations. Can anyone explain on what authority the Nagar Palika collects money, that too a substantial amount. To me it is penalty for taking pains to visit Uttarakhand. One would be better off visiting Kerala which to me is the most tourist friendly state in India.

My stay for the night was planed for Vinayak. I wanted to avoid Nainital which must be buzzing with tourists in this summer. Therefore, instead of going down to Nainital, we took the left turn immediately after the toll post. This road goes to Kunjakharak via Kilbury, Pangot and Vinayak. I had booked my stay at the Vinayak FRH which is about 22km from Nainital. For most part it was an uphill drive where occasional clouds and rains greeted us. Driving through clouds and desolate hills, we had reached Pangot, a small hamlet located some 16 km from Nainital. My altimeter said that we had reached an altitude of 6350-6400 feet.

With the impending rain in mind, I had enquired at Pangot about the distance to Vinayak. The response was mixed – from 3 to 6 kilometers. I decided to continue as I had at least an hour before dark. Barely a kilometer further my drive was stopped by the sight of a landslide ravaged stretch of about 100 meters. Given the clouds hovering above and the condition of the stretch, it was apparent that a heavy rain would easily block this stretch and we may get stuck next day. Pangot is the last substantial human habitation on the route. As there is not much human habitation or vehicular movement beyond Pangot, a landslide may take some time to be cleared. I had to reach Corbett next day and Corbett was more important to me than Vinayak. So we decided to return to Pangot.

There is a grocery shop at Pangot on the main road which also serves as kind of meeting / waiting point for locals commuting to other places. A road branches out from this point, down to the main village. Pangot is being promoted as a birding paradise. Many private resorts have come up in the area and all of them are located close to the main road. We decided to check the Janardan Resort, located barely 50 meters from the shop. Built out of carving on a hill face, this is a small property with six double room cottages. On climbing up the stairs, the place exuded a mystique charm with a majestic view of greenery and hills around. The manager asked for price of 1500 which was bargained down to 1400. This is quite decent price given the rates of some other resorts on the area which has a net presence. In India, anything available on net is always costlier and hence I almost always travel without prior booking. Besides being cheaper it also gives me the flexibility to check habitability of the place. I had enquired with Jungle Lore Birding Lodge which asked 4500 per night for a couple with all meals. Kafal House asked 3500 for same package. Both asked around 1000 extra for child. Paying 5000 for such remote place sounds ridiculous to me. If you go to Pangot for a day, then you will at most have a dinner and breakfast, not all three meals. Thus it would be advisable to bargain a price without meals.

Pangot turned out to be a very peaceful location. Most of vehicles seen on the main road went down to the Pangot village. Only a handful continued towards Kunjakharak. The resort provided a beautiful view of the hills and jungles of the surrounding hills. Sitting on the verandah of the cottage we watched birds and people that went past in the distance. What kept us engrossed is the tranquility of the place. The greenery all around, which got engulfed in clouds that kept flowing past us from time to time. On occasions the clouds devoured our resort as well making it very cold.

As expected it had rained heavily at night. It got quite cold during the night. We did not carry any warm cloths as we did not expect it to get that cold. Imagine shivering in peak May summer. In the morning we had decided to explore the area around. We went down a British era trek that leads to a village and a temple down. The trek starts right opposite the resort. But because of clouds and accompanying rains / moisture we could not explore much. Contrary to what I read somewhere on net, there were birds. Waking up before sunrise, I saw many varieties. Unfortunately I could hardly recognize any. Most birds disappeared by 7 am.

After a decent breakfast, we decided to head out for Ramnagar en-route to Corbett. The distance between Ramnagar and Pangot is around 70 km. Driving down was a real challenge as visibility was down to barely 50 feet because of dense cloud cover. I was actually scared and stopped at one place for visibility to improve. We had given Nainital town a complete miss despite being very close as we wanted a peaceful outing rather than touristy one. We liked Pangot a lot and we will try to make a comeback to this place for a longer stay.

To end : Janardan Resort turned out to be VFM. Not a luxury property, but it is decent with clean rooms and running hot water and electricity. We were charged only 250 rupees for the dinner and breakfast. You can not expect much of menu option to eat in such remote places, but it was home cooked food served hot by the manager – cum –cook. He also cooked the Maggie we carried with us. I recommend it.

(Journey undertaken on 26th may, 2011)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Penalties Increase for Flashing Lasers at Planes

USA Today: The federal government is increasing the penalties for people caught shining laser beams at commercial planes in response to a steep increase in the number of incidents.

The Federal Aviation Administration will consider someone who hits a plane with a laser to be "interfering" with a flight crew, the same statute used to protect pilots and flight attendants from hijackers, the agency said it will announce today.

The agency has no authority to prosecute violators criminally, but it can charge them under civil statutes and assess fines up to $11,000. Last year, the FAA received 2,836 reports that planes were hit with lasers, nearly double the total in 2009 and 10 times as many as 2005.

"Our top priority is protecting the safety of the traveling public," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a prepared statement. "We will not hesitate to take tough action against anyone who threatens the safety of our passengers, pilots and air transportation system." Pointing a laser at an aircraft is illegal in some states and legislation pending in Congress would make it a federal crime, but the FAA action makes it easier to penalize violators.

"Shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft is not a joke. These lasers can temporarily blind a pilot and make it impossible to safely land the aircraft, jeopardizing the safety of the passengers and people on the ground," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said. Green-colored laser pointers can cause a distracting flash of light in the cockpit at up to 2 miles away, according to FAA studies. At closer ranges, they can create short-lived blindness as the eye adjusts to the flash.

Laser pointers are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and have limited power. Much stronger lasers that can severely damage the eye are widely available for sale even though there is little use for them outside scientific research, according to the Laser Institute of America.

Incidents continue to pile up, according to federal and local officials. A joint helicopter team serving Southern California cities Burbank and Glendale has logged four cases in the past month, two of which resulted in arrests, said police Sgt. Steve Robertson. "It just keeps happening," Robertson said. "Unfortunately, it's just a matter of time before someone crashes as a result of it. We've been fortunate up to now."

Federal and local law enforcement agencies have had some success by forming laser working groups to improve cooperation. A team in Sacramento has arrested 22 people, 19 of whom were convicted, in the past two years, according to Department of Homeland Security data.

This year, Phoenix and the Dallas-Fort Worth areas lead the nation with 45 incidents each.