Delta Expands Probe Into Websites Posing as Affiliated Pet Services

Carolyn Kaster  / Associated Press

Delta Air Lines planes are parked at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, in Washington, D.C. A bogus pet-shipping website that tricks people into thinking they’re dealing with Delta Air Lines is also linked to a scam that preys on people hoping to buy dogs such as Chihuahuas, poodles and corgis, the airline says in a court filing.
Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press

Skift Take: Delta had alleged one site is a fraudulent pet shipper. It now says that the site is part of “larger criminal scheme” and that there are copycats. It will be up to the courts to see if this old dog will hunt.

— Sean O’Neill

A bogus pet-shipping website that tricks people into thinking they’re dealing with Delta Air Lines is also linked to a scam that preys on people hoping to buy dogs such as Chihuahuas, poodles, and corgis, the airline says in a court filing.

Delta, one of the world’s largest airlines says its wide-ranging investigation into the pet shipping website uncovered a “larger criminal scheme.”

Delta filed a federal lawsuit last month over a website that it says tricks people into thinking they’re dealing with the airline when arranging for their pets to fly on jets.

The airline says the site — DeltaPetTransit.com — is designed to look like a Delta site and uses the airline’s logos and pictures of its planes.

In court records filed this week, the airline says its investigation has turned up numerous sites using the Delta name that promise to ship pets or advertise dogs for sale.

The website operators collect thousands of dollars without shipping or delivering any pets, Delta maintains.

Even after people pay the purchase price for a “non-existent dog,” the website operators “demand still more payments for ‘mandatory’ insurance, vaccines, permits, and other ‘required fees,” Delta wrote in court filings.

“In truth, however, defendants have no dogs for sale, provide no shipping services, and instead retain as the proceeds of their theft-by-deception all payments made by their various victims,” Delta’s lawyers wrote.

The airline’s investigation involves several subpoenas of Google and other internet companies as it tries to identify the operators behind the sites, so it can name them as defendants in its lawsuit.

As part of that effort, Delta is seeking to obtain grocery store surveillance video of an unidentified man who picked up a pet-related payment inside a grocery store in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Delta’s investigator had gone on one of the websites and sent a wire payment via Western Union. The man picked up the payment Oct. 18 at a Western Union office inside a King Soopers grocery store. Delta asked a judge this week for authorization to subpoena the video from the grocery store’s parent firm, Kroger Co.

Delta on Friday had no immediate comment on the ongoing case Friday.

The airline has identified several other websites which it says are using its name without permission, including DeltaPetAirways.com , court records show. That site uses the Delta name, but also references Delta rival American Airlines and its AAdvantage frequent flyer program.

Delta says it has evidence linking the pet transport sites with the phony dog-selling sites, and the airline believes it’s all part of the same scheme.

One of the websites cited in court records advertises “Mini Goldendoodle Puppies.” The site includes a lengthy description of how the puppies are lovingly raised. A shipping section of the site includes prices and details of how the dogs are supposedly transported to their new home via airlines.

“At about five weeks of age we start taking them out on car trips, this not only accustoms them to travelling but also to being confined to a crate for short periods of time,” the website states. “Weather permitting they go outside for play sessions and are soon happy to toilet on grass, block paving, stones and concrete as well as newspaper. By the time they are ready to leave mum they are pretty bomb-proof and well prepared for life in the big wide world.”

Copyright (2017) Associated Press. All rights reserved.

This article was written by Jeff Martin from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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SpiceJet Is Buying Seaplanes to Reach Indian Areas That Other Airlines Can’t

Bloomberg

The next sales pitch for Spicejet may turn out to be: No runway? No problem! SpiceJet may buy 100 amphibious planes to reach areas that are otherwise not easily serviced. Bloomberg

Skift Take: Most of India’s 450 airstrips are too decrepit for big planes. So SpiceJet’s likely plan to buy 100 amphibious planes to reach otherwise hard-to-serve areas sounds like a puddle-jump worth taking.

— Sean O’Neill

The next sales pitch for one of the world’s fastest-growing airlines may turn out to be: No runway? No problem!

SpiceJet Ltd., an Indian budget carrier that’s seen its stock zoom 10-fold in three years, wants to open up the third-biggest aviation market even more. That means targeting the billion Indians who’ve never flown before, either because they can’t afford it or because they don’t live near a functioning airport.

The airline is in talks with Japan’s Setouchi Holdings Inc. to buy about 100 amphibious Kodiak planes that can land anywhere, including on water, gravel or in an open field. The deal, valued at about $400 million, would help SpiceJet capitalize on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious plan to connect the vast nation by air without waiting for billions of dollars in upgrades to colonial-era infrastructure.

“Airports are in short supply in India,” SpiceJet Chairman Ajay Singh said. “Lots of the growth in India is happening in small markets, but those small markets have little or no connectivity. So we are looking for a solution where we can get flights to places where no airports exist.”

While negotiations continue, Hiroshima-based Setouchi plans to conduct a demonstration water landing in November, said Go Okazaki, an executive managing director in the overseas business division. He couldn’t estimate when the deal would close.

India’s airlines handled 100 million domestic passengers last year, making it the No. 3 market behind China and the U.S. To handle growth, India will need at least 2,100 new planes worth $290 billion in the next 20 years, Boeing Co. estimates.

Modi unveiled a plan in 2015 to bring aviation to the remotest parts of the world’s seventh-biggest land mass. The government program subsidizes airfares while offering free landing and parking to airlines. Modi envisages domestic ticket sales quintupling in the next decade to half a billion units.

About 97 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people have never been on an airplane, according to SpiceJet. But there’s a problem finding places to pick up and drop off those passengers.

Only about 75 of the 450 areas designated by the Indian government as an airport or airstrip currently handle commercial flights. That exacerbates the stress on major airports in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, where hardly any landing slots are available.

Infrastructure at most of those dormant airports — runways, control towers, terminals and maintenance sheds — has suffered decades of neglect, making the sites unusable.

That’s where SpiceJet’s amphibious strategy comes in. The Kodiak aircraft, which can seat either 10 or 14 people, is capable of taking off or landing on a 300-meter strip of water or land, and has a range of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles.) That’s about the distance between Mumbai and Bengaluru.

The sales agreement could be finalized in as soon as three months, SpiceJet said. The planes, made by Sandpoint, Idaho-based Quest Aircraft Co., could allow SpiceJet to land at as many as 300 of India’s currently unused airports, Okazaki said.

“The basic logic for this is that in India, we need last-mile connectivity,” Singh said. “The amphibian plane opens up a lot of areas, creates a lot of flexibility.”

They also would save a lot of time for Mihin Rosie, who regularly travels from her job in southern India to her hometown in the far eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, bordering Tibet and Myanmar.

Rosie, 29, now flies from Bengaluru to Guwahati, takes a train to Ziro and then rides a bus or car to her family in Hapoli — an 18-hour expedition. Air service between Guwahati and Hapoli could save her 15 hours, she said.

Lake Town

The Kodiak planes also could be deployed to tourist sites such as the western lake-town of Udaipur, where the airport is far away from the main city, Singh said.

“High-end tourists use amphibious aircraft at exotic locations all over the world,” said Amber Dubey, a New Delhi-based partner and India head of aerospace and defense at KPMG. “There’s no reason why it can’t be successful in India.”

Still, hurdles remain before SpiceJet can start scheduling amphibious flights.

The government doesn’t allow single-engine aircraft to fly commercially because of safety concerns, and any airline trying to operate amphibious aircraft likely will face opposition from environmental groups, local communities and nongovernmental organizations, Dubey said.

“We’ve taken this idea to the government, and the government seems to be very enthusiastic,” Singh said.

Landing Sites

India’s aviation regulators are studying whether to allow such planes into the commercial fleet and are reviewing a list of about 20 proposed landing sites, a government official said, asking not to be identified because of government rules. Decisions are likely by year’s end, the official said.

India’s aviation secretary, R.N. Choubey, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Singh’s relentless optimism helped him bring SpiceJet back from the brink of extinction in 2014 after it defaulted on a $2.2 million fuel bill. Since then, shares have outperformed the Bloomberg World Airlines Index, pushing SpiceJet’s market valuation to 85.6 billion rupees ($1.3 billion).

A potential deal with closely held Setouchi Holdings will cap a recent spending spree by SpiceJet. In September, Bombardier Commercial Aircraft said it concluded a firm purchase agreement with SpiceJet for as many as 50 Q400 turboprop airliners, valued at $1.7 billion.

The Gurgaon-based airline also began an order contest that month between Boeing and Airbus SE for wide-body aircraft, indicating it plans to offer discounted long-distance flights to markets including Europe, Singh told Bloomberg TV on Sept. 7.

“Once local communities support seaplane operations and the benefits become visible, we may see seaplanes take off all over the vast Indian coastline,” Dubey said. “It’s a revolution waiting to happen.”

 

–With assistance from Iain Marlow Kiyotaka Matsuda and Hannah Dormido

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Anurag Kotoky from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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A Majority of Avid U.S. Travelers Have Never Used Airbnb

Airbnb

This York, UK apartment, which is offered on Airbnb, is more than 600 years old and has been dubbed ‘The Chamber.’ Lore has it that York, UK is one of the most haunted cities in the world. Airbnb

Skift Take: Despite Airbnb’s precipitous growth in the travel industry, our latest survey results show that the company still has lots of room for growth among U.S. travelers.

— meghan

In the travel industry today, it’s impossible to avoid hearing about the threat of Airbnb and its impending domination of competitors.

At this year’s Skift Global Forum, the audience was eager to hear how a variety of travel brands were preparing to compete with Airbnb, and stay relevant in the changing travel landscape.

But did you know that 63 percent of avid U.S. travelers have never even used Airbnb before?

This was one of the most intriguing and surprising findings that emerged from our Experiential Traveler Survey this year, along with other insights regarding booking channel preferences, in-destination attitudes, travel motivators, and much more.

Last week we launched the latest report in our Skift Research service, U.S. Experiential Traveler Trends 2018: Skift Research’s Annual Survey & Data Analysis On Traveler Behavior, Motivations & Preferences. This report covers the results of the second annual Experiential Traveler Survey, along with brief analysis of the collected data.

Below is an excerpt of the report. Get the full report here to keep up on the trends.

The continuing rise in popularity of alternative lodging companies, exemplified by Airbnb, means that today’s travelers have more choices than ever when it comes to selecting their travel accommodations.

In this section, we present the survey questions that uncover Avid Travelers’ accommodation preferences, in general, and more specifically with regards to hotels and Airbnb rentals.

One-third of Avid Travelers have used Airbnb at least once during a past leisure trip.

Preview and Buy the Full Report

Among those who have used Airbnb in the past, almost nine out of 10 reported being satisfied or very satisfied with their last Airbnb and experience.

Preview and Buy the Full Report

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This is the latest in a series of research reports, analyst calls, and data sheets aimed at analyzing the fault lines of disruption in travel. These reports are intended for the busy travel industry decision maker. Tap into the opinions and insights of our seasoned network of staffers and contributors. Over 200 hours of desk research, data collection, and/or analysis goes into each report.

After you subscribe, you will gain access to our entire vault of reports, analyst calls, and data sheets conducted on topics ranging from technology to marketing strategy to deep-dives on key travel brands. Reports are available online in a responsive design format, or you can also buy each report a la carte at a higher price.

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Video: TripAdvisor CEO Believes Company’s Performance Is On Track

Skift

TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer appeared at the Skift Global Forum in New York City on September 27, 2017. Skift

Skift Take: No other current online travel company CEO is as outspoken as TripAdvisor’s Stephen Kaufer about the the global refugee crisis and U.S. visitor policies. We wish more executives would step up and speak out.

— Sean O’Neill

TripAdvisor has had its operational struggles this year, but CEO Stephen Kaufer insists everything is on track for future growth.

In a wide-ranging conversation at Skift Global Forum in New York City in September, Kaufer commented on a variety of challenges and opportunities facing the company.

He said TripAdvisor remains on track for propelling the long-term growth of revenue-per-shopper, a key metric, on the site. He added that the company continues to expand its unique number of hotel shoppers — a trend it credits to having built a more compelling user experience.

Yet earlier during Skift Global Forum, Mark Mahaney, a research analyst and managing director at RBC Capital Markets, made a sharp critique of TripAdvisor’s recent wobbles. He said the company was not being innovative enough.

On stage, Kaufer countered this criticism by saying that data showed travelers were happy with the innovations that TripAdvisor has debuted to date.

In August, TripAdvisor sweetened the incentives for management with juicier exit packages if another entity took control of the company via a merger or sale. Skift has previously reported on the possibility that talks of a sale of the company may have been quietly under way.

Kaufer did not discuss such scenarios in depth on stage.

Speaking Out About Trump’s Policies

The top boss at TripAdvisor, the world’s most-visited travel website, took aim at the Trump administration, and offered some of the toughest criticism of U.S. policy toward refugees, the children of undocumented workers, and generic travel bans made by any online travel company chief executive.

“I just find it so frustrating that this country is not more welcoming to people who deserve to be here,” said Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor’s CEO. “And in our industry, it’s a worry about tourists who had wanted to come here but are clearly getting a message, ‘Hey, no, you may be hassled at the border.’”

Kaufer also address the global refugee crisis.

“When it comes to the Syrian refugee crisis, … in the travel category, we are in a position to help,” Kaufer said. “We want to help travelers make donations but also raise their voices and say, ‘This can’t stand, This can’t be another crisis that nobody pays attention to.’”

He noted that TripAdvisor had used its platform to prompt travelers to consider making charitable donations. By 2018, the company will have donated almost $6 million from its foundation to address the refugee crisis and will have enabled about $1.3 million in user donations through its consumer campaigns.

Watch the entire interview above. Or consider reading more coverage of the Skift Global Forum.

At this year’s Skift Global Forum in New York City, travel leaders from around the world gathered for two days of inspiration, information, and conversation for panels such as this, as well as solo TED-like talks on the future of travel.

Visit our Skift Global Forum site for more details about 2018 events.

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Business of Loyalty: United Airlines Appoints a New Head of Loyalty

LinkedIn

Luc Bondar is United’s incoming VP of loyalty. LinkedIn

Skift Take: United Airlines has a new head of loyalty starting this week at the same time that major changes are happening within the program.

— Grant Martin

United Airlines has a new boss coming for Mileage Plus, its loyalty program. Luc Bondar officially takes the reins from Praveen Sharma, the current vice president of loyalty, merchandising and digital channels at United Airlines on November 1. According to the blog View From the Wing, the news was shared internally and verified by corporate communications, though United has so far declined to comment directly.

Bondar comes from a rich loyalty marketing background spent primarily at Carlson Marketing Worldwide, part of the Carlson Companies hotel, restaurant, and travel empire. That marketing group was acquired by Montreal-based loyalty management company Groupe Aeroplan, which oversees Air Canada’s Aeroplan, in 2009. The Canadian company later changed its name to Aimia, where Bondar was senior vice president for the U.S. region until he left to join Index Computer Software in 2016. Air Canada’s contract with Aimia, of note, expires in 2020.

As Bondar begins his life at United, Mileage Plus itself will also be in transition. On November 1, United is introducing a new tier of awards called Everyday Awards, which flexibly price mileage tickets based on current market demand rather than a fixed award chart. Everyday Awards are being integrated alongside standard Saver and premium awards, but many think that they’re a first step toward an entirely revenue-based award chart that breathes with the market. Already, Delta Air Lines uses a similar model.

In addition to Everyday Awards, United is also shuffling the way that its inexpensive Saver Awards are priced on November 1, making some international and business class award tickets more expensive while other, regional flights are getting cheaper.

As these changes settle in, Bondar will need to balance feedback from the Mileage Plus community as well as contend with an airline and loyalty program that firmly trails competitors. Earlier this month, United’s stock slid more than 12 percent on news that the airline wasn’t competing well.

Along with American’s AAdvantage and Delta’s SkyMiles, Mileage Plus, too, has suffered in the last years as the pivot to revenue-based programs has inflamed and confused budget travelers. This year’s U.S. News & World Report airline rewards rankings placed United as number five in the country behind Delta and Southwest (American was ranked number six). Alaska Airlines, meanwhile, has been cleaning up rankings and the awards circuit with its distance-based loyalty program.

Even so, Mileage Plus has great strengths that Bondar may be able to highlight. As part of the Star Alliance, United has great access to international partners — particularly in Europe — that make Mileage Plus the preferred program in the U.S. for finding long-haul award availability.

Mileage Plus is also comparatively liberal with its award space (largely due to partner availability). Many have criticized American for its lack of award seats available through the year while they discard SkyMiles’ revenue-based awards as confusing and expensive.

As United begins to right its ship, Bondar may find a fatigued loyalty base tired of changes and strict revenue requirements. But he’s also got the tools to improve the program. While the market may dictate which direction Mileage Plus ultimately needs to move, Bondar has a great opportunity to make a good loyalty program even better.

— Grant Martin

Skift Stories and More Expert Insight

American Airlines Believes It Doesn’t Need Over-the-Top Luxury to Compete With Gulf Carriers: Don’t expect American Airlines to introduce on-board bars, first class showers, or business class seats that convert to double beds anytime soon.

Hilton CEO Previews New Brands and Tech Launches for 2018: Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta is already looking toward a busy 2018. Nassetta said the company’s plans for 2018 include two to three new brand launches, the global rollout of an internet of things “connected room,” a new room rate structure, and high hopes for corporate tax reform.

Uber Enters the Loyalty Game With New Credit Card: Ridesharing giant Uber will launch its first co-branded credit card on November 2 in conjunction with Barclays, integrating card benefits into its app to create a seamless way for customers to spend their reward points on Uber rides.

Lyft Continues Steady Rise in Popularity Among Business Travelers: While Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi does damage control following the scandal that forced a leadership change, Lyft is quietly ramping up its quest to acquire more customers across the U.S.

View From the Wing: Delta Changes Mileage-Earning on Partner Airlines Effective January 1: Delta is updating mileage-earning on partners effective January 1. Some tickets flown on partners will earn more miles (and elite qualifying credit) and some tickets will earn fewer miles.

Australian Business Traveller: Cathay Pacific Boeing 777s Get a First Class Facelift: Cathay Pacific is rolling out another refresh for its Boeing 777-300ER first class cabins — the second since the suites debuted in 2007 — although this time around the changes are less sweeping.

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Business Travelers Rarely Use Virtual Payments In Another Sign of Companies’ Slow Adoption

Sean MacEntee  / Flickr

Some credit cards are shown. Business travelers have yet to adopt virtual cards en masse. Sean MacEntee / Flickr

Skift Take: Most companies still give their business travelers corporate cards or ask them to pay upfront for later reimbursement. Given the rapid development of mobile and virtual payment methods for consumers, corporate travel is lagging behind yet again.

— Andrew Sheivachman

When it comes to business travel expenses, corporate credit cards are still the name of the game. While fully digital solutions, such as Apple Pay and Android Pay, have been developed, they’re still used by only a fraction of business travelers.

The Global Business Travel Association Foundation polled 137 U.S. travel managers earlier this year about their company’s policy on travel expenses for their Total Cost of Ownership – Payment Solutions report.

Corporate cards are, of course, widely used; 94 percent of large companies and 84 percent of small- to mid-size companies allow them. Many travelers still pay their travel costs upfront, however with 55 percent of companies allowing customers to use their personal cards or cash.

“The persistence of non-corporate methods like cash, supplier invoices, personal cards or company cash advances may reflect the prevalence of infrequent and non-employee travel,” said Monica Sanchez, director of research for the GBTA Foundation. “Regardless of the reason, these methods can pose problems including reduced spend visibility making it difficult to both track and enforce policy compliance and to perform back-offices functions such as reconciliation and reimbursement as well.”

This is problematic for organizations trying to limit spending on travel and other expenses. Many in corporate travel tout virtual cards as a solution for dealing with fraud, and retaining visibility into spending as it happens,

Instead, solutions have been adopted more often on the back-of-the-house payments end than the creation of solutions to ease this pain point for travelers themselves.

“More than half of travel programs use virtual payment,” states the report. “Of these, four out of five (81 percent) only use corporate travel accounts, also known as lodge or ghost accounts, while 16 percent use corporate travel accounts and virtual card numbers. Surprisingly, adoption of virtual payment does not vary depending on company size.”

Things seem to have developed slowly since the last time we took a look at this phenomenon. A breakdown of the size companies that allow which kinds of payments shows this dynamic:

“Small and mid-sized companies—which in this study are classified as those with revenue of less than $1 billion—use corporate payment products at similar rates as their larger counterparts,” states the report. “However, they are more likely to use non-corporate methods including personal cards/cash, direct supplier invoicing, and company cash advances. These methods make it more difficult to have transparency of travel program spend and reconciliation.”

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Loews Hotels Is Taking a Contrarian Approach With Its Asset-Heavy Strategy

Loews Hotels

A rendering of the upcoming Live! By Loews hotel in Arlington, Texas. The hotel is an example of future sports-related partnerships that the company is pursuing. Loews Hotels

Skift Take: It’ll be interesting to see what works better for relatively smaller hotel companies like Loews, Red Lion, and even Hyatt with each of their respectively divergent business strategies: traditional asset ownership; totally asset-light; and asset recycling.

— Deanna Ting

In an increasingly competitive hotel landscape marked by consolidation, Loews Hotels is hoping to stand out from the rest by doing things differently from its peers.

The New York-based hotel company, part of the larger Loews Corporation, isn’t following in the footsteps of larger competitors when it comes to pursuing an asset-light strategy, something companies like Marriott, Hilton, Red Lion Hotels Corporation, and Wyndham have made the cornerstone of their business strategies.

While the company has only sold two hotels since 2015 and opened a total of seven, its next three hotel projects all involve development and ownership on Loews Hotels’ part.

“Why have we focused more on building versus buying? It’s simple,” said Loews Corporation CEO James Tisch during the company’s third quarter earnings call on Monday. “First, when you build something, you get exactly what you want. Second, we think the returns are great.”

Tisch added that because “Loews Hotels is both an owner and an operator, a business model that is increasingly rare for hotel companies,” it makes the company “an attractive partner for developers, immersive destination owners, and municipalities alike. We think like owners because we are owners, which creates mutually beneficial partnership dynamics for all constituents, something Loews Hotels has prided itself on for almost 60 years that we’ve been in the business.”

Why So Many Hotel Companies Choose to Go Asset-Light

The asset-light hotel real estate strategy isn’t a new one to the hospitality industry, but it has increasingly become the business model of choice for brands across the spectrum.

Red Lion Hotels Corporation Chief Financial Officer Doug Ludwig told Skift that “the secret of why the industry is going toward this asset-light model” is this: “You don’t need a lot of capital to add franchise agreements and they are immediately profitable; there are no startup losses. You’re not exposed to capital requirements of real estate assets themselves. It’s a low-capital, stable, high-margin business — the investment community is willing to pay a higher valuation or higher multiple because of those characteristics.”

In other words, it makes money and it helps companies grow and scale much more dramatically.

“The shift to an asset-light strategy continues to accelerate across the industry, especially as shares of Marriott and Hilton now trade at premium valuation multiples,” Michael Bellisario, senior research analyst for Baird Equity Research, wrote in an note to investors.

And even those hotel companies known for not having an asset-light approach seem to be shifting their strategies today as well, Bellisario noted: “Hyatt is one of the remaining global brands with an owned real estate strategy; however, even Hyatt’s tone appeared to subtly shift recently with management noting that the company’s future growth was expected to be driven primarily by its management and franchise business.”

Hyatt is strategic about property sales but doesn’t fully embrace an asset-light strategy. If it does sell properties, it invests that money into hotels in markets where the real estate is not as overvalued.

Why Loews Hotels Won’t Go Asset-Light

Loews Hotels, however, believes it can stand out by owning real estate and being a developer, in addition to being a hotel management company, primarily because of what Loews Corp. CEO Tisch called an “increasingly challenging environment.”

“For almost a decade, the hotel industry has seen consistent top line growth, but in many markets supply is now outpacing demand and RevPAR [revenue per available room] growth has decelerated,” Tisch said. “Social media, instant availability of information, distribution intermediaries, mobile devices, and the sharing economy all exert pressure on a hospitality industry. Simultaneously, hotel companies have consolidated into industry behemoths with economies of scale pressuring smaller operators.”

To face those challenges, he said, the company will focus on “highly profitable, distinguished hotels in the upper upscale market” that “cater to group business and are therefore better able to withstand disruptors such as the sharing economy and technological disintermediation.” These are hotels such as the Loews Chicago Hotel, Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville, and the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, all three of which also have robust meetings group business.

Working With Partners, Attracting Group Business

The second way Loews Hotels will continue to grow is by working with partners that possess “built-in demand generators” and building convention center-adjacent hotels.

Tisch pointed to the company’s partnership with Universal Orlando Resort as a prime example of the company’s success in working with partners.

“Our partnership with Universal began almost 20 years ago with a joint venture in the first three hotels on the theme park campus,” he said. “Today, Loews Hotels in partnership with Universal has five hotels and 5,600 rooms in Orlando, and we’ll open our sixth property in the summer of 2018, the 600-room Aventura Hotel, and there’s more to come. In the next several weeks, the partnership plans to announce a project that will be our largest investment so far in Orlando in terms of both rooms and dollars. So, stay tuned.”

Attracting groups is also a foundational objective for Loews Hotels. It plans to open an 800-room convention center-connected hotel in Kansas City in 2020.

And working with The Cordish Companies, Loews is launching a new partnership called Live! by Loews, which combine Loews hotel projects with major sports arenas to form entertainment districts. Loews’ first two Live! by Loews locations include hotels in Arlington, Texas and St. Louis, Missouri.

“In St. Louis, we’ll partner with the St. Louis Cardinals; and in Arlington, we’ll join forces with the Texas Rangers,” Tisch said. “Both teams have a deep-rooted fan base and we look forward to welcoming them to our new best-in-class assets, but have no fear these hotels will do plenty of business on non-game nights too. The stadiums and the Cordish entertainment districts will host many concerts and events throughout the year, and our hotels will include significant meeting space, making these ideal destinations for groups and transient customers looking for a unique immersive experience.”

Tisch is right in capitalizing on a growing trend among meeting and event planners: using sports venues for non-sporting events. Loews Hotels also isn’t alone in its idea of debuting hotels in partnership with sports teams and venues: Omni Hotels is doing something similar in Dallas and Atlanta.

Whether Loews Hotels’ overall asset-heavy, partnership- and meetings-driven strategy will prove to be successful, or deliver the kinds of returns that asset-light hotel companies produce, remains to be seen.

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Best Western Launches Its Third Soft Brand Collection

Killington Mountain Lodge  / Facebook

Kilington Mountain Lodge is one of the first two hotels to join Best Western’s newest brand, a soft brand collection called BW Signature Collection by Best Western. Killington Mountain Lodge / Facebook

Skift Take: Another day, another hotel soft brand collection. So, who’s next? Hilton or IHG?

— Deanna Ting

When we said, “Don’t expect hotel companies to stop launching new soft brands anytime soon,” we weren’t kidding.

Today, Best Western Hotels & Resorts is joining its hotel peers and launching its third hotel soft brand collection.

The BW Signature Collection by Best Western marks the company’s 11th brand, and is geared toward the upper midscale market. The company’s other two soft brands focus on upper economy and midscale (SureStay Collections by Best Western) and upscale/upper upscale (BW Premier Collection).

Unlike a “hard” hotel brand, a soft brand collection like BW Signature Collection by Best Western is meant to appeal to independent hotel owners who don’t want to be beholden to the same strict standards as a a specific brand such as Best Western, Courtyard by Marriott, or Embassy Suites, but want to benefit from a big hotel company’s distribution network.

The first soft brand hotel collections that emerged tended to focus more on the luxury and upper upscale hotel categories — think Choice Hotels’ Ascend Collection, Starwood’s (now Marriott’s) The Luxury Collection, Marriott’s Autograph Collection, and Hilton’s Curio Collection.

Today, however, hotel companies are increasingly looking to the midscale space to launch new soft brands. We saw that with Hilton’s newest soft brand, Tapestry Collection, and from Wyndham’s first soft brand collection, Trademark Hotel Collection. Just last month, Red Roof Inn entered the soft brand market with The Red Collection, which targets the “upscale economy to midscale space.”

In a statement, Best Western president and CEO David Kong said, “No one is offering a soft brand in the upper midscale segment right now, so by diversifying our offerings in the space, it is clearly an opportunity for us to capture market share and achieve scale.”

Whether Best Western is the only hotel company that has a soft brand in the upper midscale segment is highly debatable, but it’s clear that more hotel companies are capitalizing on the benefits of launching soft brands: building up scale and bringing more independent hoteliers into their networks.

These hotel companies are also aspiring to having multiple soft brands that cover a true range of hotel chain scales, from economy to luxury. A prime example of this strategy includes Hilton, which says it hopes to launch a more luxury-focused soft brand by next year.

Best Western said it has already signed two hotels to its newest soft brand: Killington Mountain Lodge in Killington, Vermont, and Brooklyn Way Hotel in Brooklyn, New York. A quick look at Best Western’s website, however, lists Brooklyn Way Hotel as a member of the company’s higher-tier BW Premier Collection soft brand, suggesting the hotel is shifting its profile from upscale to upper midscale.

For independent hoteliers, soft brand collections are primarily advantageous because they give access to the bigger brand’s distribution channels, revenue management systems, sales support, marketing programs, loyalty programs, and global reservation system — all without necessarily having to commit to strict brand standards.

The fact that all 4,100 hotels worldwide that currently carry Best Western’s brands, whether soft brand or not, are independently owned and operated suggests that Best Western is a company that knows how to work well with independent owners. And the fact that the company also has more than 30 million loyalty program members is another advantage for hoteliers who want to capitalize on loyalty relationships to drive bookings.

Whether this new soft brand for Best Western will be attractive to independent hoteliers and will ultimately help them attract more guests and repeat business remains to be seen, however. The only surety at this point is that we can expect even more of these types of hotel collection brands going forward.

Ryan Wolkov

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Author: Ryan Wolkov

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Nebraska Tourism Officials Want More Money to Fight the Flyover State Perception

Diana Robinson  / Flickr

Nebraska wants to be better known as a tourist destination. Pictured are Sandhill Cranes standing in the Platte River at sunset near Kearney, Nebraska. Diana Robinson / Flickr

Skift Take: One of the first items on the agenda for the Nebraska Tourism Commission should be to convince local politicians to not take funds from the state’s lodging tax fund if Nebraska has hopes for its tourism industry.

— Dan Peltier

Nebraska has fallen behind most other states in its efforts to attract out-of-state tourists and placed last in a recent national ranking of locations people would like to visit, according to a state’s tourism commission report.

The Nebraska Tourism Commission offered a blunt assessment of its situation in a budget request last week to lawmakers and Gov. Pete Ricketts, who frequently note that tourism is the state’s third-largest industry.

The commission said it faces “a significant competitive disadvantage” compared to its peers in other states, and its $6.5 million budget is less than half of the $13.1 million national median for tourism agencies.

Nebraska finished in last place in the 2016-17 “Portrait of the American Traveler” ranking of places people would like to vacation, the report said. The state also fared poorly in key factors that are known to drive out-of-state visits — ad awareness, familiarity with the state as a tourism spot and likelihood of vacationing in Nebraska.

“It’s a signal to me that we have to present the state and invite people here in a different way,” said John Ricks, the Nebraska Tourism Commission’s new director.

Tourism officials hope to fight the perception of Nebraska as a flat, boring flyover state with no appeal to outsiders.

The commission is seeking permission to access an additional $500,000 annually from a cash fund generated by the state’s one percent lodging tax, which is imposed on hotels to help promote tourism. The money is already in the fund, so lawmakers wouldn’t have to approve new spending. However, lawmakers have drawn money from such funds in recent years to help balance the state budget.

Nebraska has traditionally been an underdog compared to other states with bigger tourism budgets, and allowing the commission to access more of the lodging tax would help it generate more interest in the state, said Roger Jasnoch, director of the Kearney Visitors Bureau.

“Certainly, when you have states that have two or three times the budget we have, we are at a disadvantage,” said Jasnoch, who also serves on the tourism commission.

Ricks said the additional money would help pay for research and promotions targeted at key out-of-state areas, which in turn would draw more visitors and generate additional tax revenue for the agency. He said the cash fund has grown by roughly 6.5 percent annually.

Nebraska is faring much better with in-state tourists, thanks in part to the increasingly popular Nebraska Passport program, Ricks said.

The program encourages residents to visit “passport stops” throughout the state, where they collect stamps and qualify for prizes. Roughly 3,500 people submitted prize entry sheets this year, shattering last year’s record of 1,292 and blowing past the 452 people who participated in 2014.

Ricks said the passport program has exceeded expectations but argued that the commission also needs to concentrate on out-of-state visitors, who tend to stay longer and spend more on their trips.

“There’s been a lot of money spent for in-state tourism,” Ricks said. “I call that singing to the choir. Nebraskans love the state and they want to travel it.”

Last year, he said the commission launched television and billboard ads in the Des Moines, Kansas City, Denver and Springfield, Missouri, markets, and saw an uptick in web traffic and requests for visitor’s guides from those areas.

“If you invite the right people, with the right message, at the right time, and they’ll come,” he said. “If we put money into the correct markets, we can interest people in coming here.”

A spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts said the administration will review all agency budget requests as they prepare for next year’s session.

“It is important to note that the governor has been urging state agencies to exercise fiscal restraint on an ongoing basis,” said Taylor Gage, the governor’s director of strategic communications.

Whether the request succeeds will depend on a variety of factors, including the state’s expected tax collections and competing requests from other state agencies, said Sen. John Stinner of Gering. Stinner, the chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, said it’s too early to tell whether the committee will deem the issue a priority.

“Everything’s on the table at this point,” he said. “All of this has to be analyzed together.”

 

This article was written by Grant Schulte from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Ryan Wolkov

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VRMA 2017 – The Value of the Vacation Rental Professional

Another well attended and successful event in Orlando! The vendor to property manager ratio was off the charts and for good reason. If there is any lingering doubt about the value of your business that was dispelled at VRMA. There was one particular keynote that caught my interest – “Is There a Future for Property […]

The post VRMA 2017 – The Value of the Vacation Rental Professional appeared first on VRM Intel.

Ryan Wolkov

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Author: Ryan Wolkov

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