Travel Perks Help Tip the Balance in Credit Card Versus Debit Battle

JP Morgan Chase

So many consumes signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card in 2016 that the company ran out of cards. JP Morgan Chase

Skift Take: While the more affluent in the United States focus on travel perks in premium credit cards, most cardholders focus on cash back. The popularity is waning for debit cards; they won’t get you any points or cash back from hotel stays or airline tickets.

— Dennis Schaal

Credit or debit? For routine purchases, Americans are likelier to say debit.

U.S. card issuers would prefer a different answer. Credit brings in far more revenue. First, the banks charge higher “interchange fees,” fees paid by merchants, on credit card purchases. Then, if you don’t pay off your credit card, the issuer levies interest and finance charges.

So what’s their strategy for getting you to use the credit card? Temptation. Issuers have loaded up their high-end credit cards with travel perks and other rewards.

It seems to be working. In a survey of U.S. consumers conducted every year by card processor Total System Services, Inc., or TSYS, the popularity of debit has been falling for several years. In 2016, credit overtook debit as Americans’ favorite form of payment.

Last year was also when JPMorgan Chase launched a new premium credit card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, to much fanfare. So many people signed up, most of them millennials, that Chase temporarily ran out of cards. American Express counterattacked in March by sweetening the perks on its premium Platinum card. An Amex executive said the company is in “hand-to-hand combat” with Chase to win over new card customers.

“You have issuers offering better rewards to try to get the attention of the consumer,” said David Robertson, publisher of the Nilson Report. “There’s a war on among the top players.”

Spending on both credit and debit cards generally rises each year, as the economy grows and as cards gradually take more share from checks and cash. But credit card use has been accelerating faster.

The companies have slowly made it easier to qualify for credit cards, nine years after the global financial crisis. Consumers are also feeling less inhibited about taking on debt, Robertson said.

And how they love their rewards. Asked in the TSYS survey about the favorite feature on their credit card, 59 percent cited rewards. That’s up seven points in two years, making rewards twice popular as any other card feature.

While generous travel benefits are the main perks of premium credit cards, the vast majority of consumers are more focused on getting cash back.

Generational change could be driving some of these trends. As the large millennial generation gets older, they’re making more money and feeling more confident about taking out credit cards, said Aite Group analyst Kevin Morrison.

Credit cards are most popular among Americans 25 to 44. Both younger consumers,  who often have trouble qualifying for credit cards, and older consumers prefer debit.

Inundated by credit card promotions, these millennials are carefully choosing the cards with the best perks, Morrison said. Compared to older generations, “they’re just more savvy,” he said. “They scrutinize offers and deals. At the end of the day, they recognize credit as a tool.”

Still, there are dangers to chasing credit card rewards. Reward cards charge annual fees that can exceed $500 a year. They also tend to charge higher interest rates than other cards.

“The use of credit cards with rewards can be valuable,” said financial counselor Willa Williams, of Trinity Financial Coaching in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. “You just have to be disciplined enough to make purchases for which you have the money to pay the bill.”

 

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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

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Trump Travel Ban Partially Upheld by Supreme Court in Temporary Ruling

The White House  / Flickr

President Donald J. Trump, center, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, right, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. The White House / Flickr

Skift Take: The stage has been set for a showdown in October that will have serious ramifications for the U.S. travel industry.

— Andrew Sheivachman

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday morning that elements of the travel ban implemented by President Donald J. Trump will now be enforced until the court hears the case this October during its next term.

The ban will now apply to those with no connection to people or entities in the U.S. Potential travelers with “bona fide” connections in the U.S. will not be blocked from receiving a visa.

Basically, potential travelers from the targeted countries with relatives or employers in the U.S. will be allowed to receive a visa, as will students.

The onus now falls on U.S. Customs and Border Protection to implement the parts of the travel ban that are effective.

Both the first and second versions of the executive order had received judicial blocks in lower courts across the country.

A majority of U.S. citizens are opposed to the ban, according to an Associated Press survey.

U.S. Court of Appeals’ Ninth Circuit in San Francisco recently ruled that the majority of the travel ban would remain blocked, while the government would be able to review its internal immigration procedures per the second executive order.

“The injunctions remain in place only with respect to parties similarly situated to Doe, Dr. Elshikh, and Hawaii,” reads the ruling. “In practical terms, this means that [the travel ban] may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States. All other foreign nationals are subject to the provisions of [the second executive order].”

Refugees will also be subject to a similar ban; they must have a connection to people in the U.S. in order to travel to the country.

The full ruling is below:

Download (PDF, 105KB)

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Four Seasons Founder Not Worried About Airbnb But Ritz-Carlton Is on his Mind

Mark Sommerfeld  / Bloomberg

Pictured is Four Seasons founder IIsadore Sharp, who believes the hotel/residential model has served the company well. Mark Sommerfeld / Bloomberg

Skift Take: Four Seasons, which was bought out by Bill Gates and Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal in 2007, has an ambitious pipeline in the works. At its end of the market in coming years, will it be able to adapt to changing customer tastes — or does it even have to?

— Dennis Schaal

Four Seasons founder Isadore Sharp doesn’t golf.

That might come as a surprise to guests at his Toronto hillside home where floor-to-ceiling windows offer a clear view of the lush fairways below at the Rosedale Golf Club in the city’s north end. “I had no time for golf,” the Canadian hotelier said.

“Issy” Sharp, 85, is still busy chipping away at the luxury hotel empire he started six decades ago in the red-light district of downtown Toronto. Spanning the dawn of overseas jet travel to a digital era of disruptors, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts remains bound to Sharp’s guiding principle that he says crosses all cultures and religions: “If you treat people well, the way you would like to be treated, they will do the same.”

The builder-turned-lodging mogul believes the so-called Golden Rule is why the company will remain a dominant five-star player on the world stage even as rivals like Ritz-Carlton expand and new threats such as Airbnb emerge. Four Seasons eventually will grow from 105 properties in 43 countries to as many as 250 locations over time, he said. Rome is among markets of interest.

“We don’t see an upside limit at all because the marketplace has grown dramatically,” Sharp said in an interview earlier this month from his home/office adorned with paintings by Lawren Harris and other “Group of Seven” artists and an extensive porcelain collection curated by his wife Rosalie, an interior designer responsible for the look of several hotels.

Gates Support

Though he relinquished the chief executive post and day-to-day operations of the chain seven years ago, Sharp remains chairman and holds a 5 percent ownership stake following a 2007 buyout by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. Sharp continues to wield “aesthetic” control, meaning he approves all of the closely held company’s “concepts.”

Gates and Al-Waleed are “very active in supporting management” and unlikely to sell their stakes, creating “certainty and stability” for Four Seasons’ more than 45,000 employees, said Sharp, adding that every person hired is interviewed at least four or five times to ensure the right fit.

“Sharp created the now legendary Four Seasons brand and unique culture based on his commitment to exceptional service and unrivaled luxury,” said Charles Zehren, spokesman for Cascade Investment LLC, Gates’ main investment vehicle. “We at Cascade are very proud to be associated with Issy and the entire team at Four Seasons, which is a valuable part of our long-term investment portfolio.”

Gates and the prince seek to make the company worth “a lot more” than the $3.7 billion valuation at the time of the 2007 deal that took the company private, said Sharp, who declined to comment on Four Seasons’ financial outlook except to say it has always turned a profit.

Avoid Debt

Sharp credits the strong balance sheet to being debt averse and steering clear of side businesses. Concepts pitched and rejected over the years included Four Seasons-branded nursing homes.

But the expansion in the mid 1980s to the hotel/residential model, which now accounts for about 80 percent of Four Seasons properties in the pipeline, was a natural fit, Sharp said. The idea, which first debuted in Boston, is to cater to customers interested in buying a home with Four Seasons branding and design, as well as access to hotel service and amenities.

The hotel chain now has some stand-alone residential properties, including one under construction in London, a market the company first entered in 1970 with a high-end hotel that became the “prototype of what we build to this day,” Sharp said.

Canada

The son of Polish Jewish immigrants, Sharp started adult life working for his father’s construction business after getting a degree in architecture. He chose to stay in Canada’s largest city in spite of blatant discrimination at the time.

“This golf course wouldn’t allow me to walk out there back then,” he said, gesturing to the Rosedale Club out his living-room window. Though Sharp doesn’t indulge in the sport, it’s in his blood: His father Max took up golf at about age 65 and shot a hole-in-one at 90, while his sister was club champion at her Toronto-area course.

Today, after decades of new immigrant arrivals, the now culturally diverse Toronto is a “great city because there are no minorities.”

Four Seasons Chief Executive Officer Allen Smith, who was hired four years ago to help the hotelier expand, says people are often surprised to learn the global company is based in Toronto.

“I occasionally meet people in Toronto who are surprised we are Toronto based,” said Smith, a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen who grew up in the U.S.

“There is a groundedness and real decency associated with Canadians in general in my experience. The principles that underlie the culture of the company, the Golden Rule, is very reflective of that,” Smith said in an interview at the Four Seasons in Toronto’s Yorkville district.

Apple Connection

Many aspects of today’s standard hotel service were started by Sharp. Four Seasons was first in providing shampoo and other toiletries, hairdryers and monogrammed bathrobes. It opened the first hotels in North America with a full-service spa and complimentary newspapers with room-service delivery. A focus on a comfortable mattress set off a hotel bed rivalry that continues today.

Steve Jobs, the Apple Inc. co-founder who died in 2011, took inspiration from Four Seasons when forming his company’s retail empire and approach to customer service, Carmine Gallo wrote in his book “The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty.”

“How much better of an endorsement can you get of what you are doing than one of the world’s greatest visionaries copying what you do,” said Sharp, who early on did things like change the pillows when he found out a politician stopped staying at the Toronto hotel because a rival had better ones.

These days, Sharp doesn’t go into the Toronto head office. His main focus now is spending time doing whatever his wife of 62 years wants to do. Still, it’s clear he puts a lot of thought into both the future of the company and industry.

New locations under consideration for Four Seasons include Rome, where Smith says the company is “conspicuously absent,” along with Venice and Nashville, Tennessee.

India Move

In China, Four Seasons has nine hotels and several under development. The company is also bullish on India, where the number of people moving from the farms into the city is said to be on the scale of all of Canada, according to Sharp.

Sharp isn’t worried about new arrivals such as Airbnb Inc., which he calls the “largest hotel company.” Marriott International Inc.’s Ritz-Carlton is “still the most formidable competitor because they are owned by one of the best hotel companies,” he said.

“Marriott builds as many hotels in one year as we operate,” Sharp said. “But we are the largest at this end of the market, therefore we have the competitive advantage.”

 

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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

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Interview: SAS CEO Explains Why the Airline Embedded a Microchip in Employee’s Hand

Peter Knutson  / SAS

SAS CEO Rickard Gustafson is tying to make his carrier more nimble so it can take on both low cost carriers and full-service competition. Peter Knutson / SAS

Skift Take: It’s a tough time to be a small, full-service airline in Europe. But SAS CEO Rickard Gustafson is trying to ensure his airline can compete both with low cost airlines, like Norwegian, and massive legacy airlines like Lufthansa Group and Air France-KLM.

— Brian Sumers

Editor’s Note: Following our previous CEO interview series in online travelhospitality, and destinations, as well as our CMO series across verticals, we’ve launched another series, this time focused on the CEOs of leading airlines outside of the United States.

Airlines_CEO_logo2To better understand the challenges facing airlines in an age of fluctuating oil prices, rapid growth, and changing passenger expectations, our Future of Passenger Experience series enables airline leaders to explain their best practices and insights. Read the rest of the series here.

This is the latest interview in the series.

For most of its 70-year history, Scandinavia’s SAS innovated more than most airlines. It was the first carrier to fly directly over the North Pole, show in-flight movies, establish regular around-the-world service, and hire a female pilot.

But most of its big innovations happened years ago. For the last couple of decades, SAS has been in a difficult situation. As an independent airline with about 150 aircraft, it’s tiny compared to Europe’s big players — Lufthansa Group, Air France-KLM and International Airlines Group, owner of British Airways and Iberia Airlines. And while it is lowering its costs, SAS is not as nimble as Europe’s leading low cost airlines, like Easyjet, Ryanair and Norwegian Air, its scrappy Scandinavian competitor.

Since joining SAS in 2014, CEO Rickard Gustafson has been trying to make it more competitive. Perhaps his biggest — and most unusual — strategy is his decision to create a new airline based in Ireland, where SAS will capitalize on cheaper labor costs. This Irish-based carrier, also to be called SAS, will operate starting later this year from two bases — one in London and one in southern Spain.

On some routes, Gustafson said the Dublin-based airline will make the Sweden-based parent company more cost-competitive with other airlines. It’ll be useful for routes like London-Copenhagen, because, for now, SAS is the only airline flying between the cities with Scandinavian-based crews. (Oslo-based Norwegian also registers many of its planes in Ireland to save money.)

Under Gustafson, SAS has also invested in technological innovation. The airline recently created SAS Lab, an innovation center charged with creating solutions that might be useful to travelers in three to five years. 

We spoke with Gustafson in early June at the IATA Annual General Meeting in Cancun, a conference for airline executives. We asked him how SAS can remain relevant against more the competition. We also learned about SAS Labs, and we discovered SAS has at least one employee with a microchip embedded in his hand.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Skift: You set up SAS lab to research ideas for future innovation. What’s its mission?

Gustafson: We need to spark innovation in our business. We need to find ways to use new technology in a new, innovative way. So we said, ‘Let’s put a few people and give them a task to play around with technology and come up with wild ideas about how we can use technology in a smarter way to simplify the travel chain.’ That’s what they were tasked to do. They have come up with a number of fun ideas. Some will never be commercially viable, but at least it creates another way of thinking.

For example, we actually have implemented a chip in the hand of one person so you can board by reaching out your hand, and you can enter into our lounge by reaching out your hand. I don’t think that a lot of customers will let us implement a chip in their hands, but we’re playing around with technology. And out of that, there will come one or two good ideas that then could be commercially viable.

Skift: You have an employee at headquarters with a chip in his hand?

Gustafson: Right.

Skift: Has the team come up with any other fun or wild ideas?

Gustafson: One thing that we believe might be more successful is a bag tag which is by bluetooth. When you check in on our app, the tag is populated with information. There’s kind of a liquid screen on a bag tag. It’s reusable, so when you check-in, you already have populated your tags. When you get through the airport, you go to the self-service bag drop, you scan it and you put it on the belt. Then when you go back home again and you check in on the app, you have an automatically repopulated bag tag, and you’re all set to go. That could also be something that you will see in the market.

Skift: Could you innovate elsewhere, too?

Gustafson: There’s a lot of talk about self-driving cars. Well, we have a ton of trucks and so forth. Maybe you should start there and have remotely driven tow trucks and stuff like that. So yes, I think there are opportunities for further innovation in our industry. But I don’t think we have been standing still. I do acknowledge we need to do more.

Skift: Later this year, you’ll innovate in another way: You’ll start a subsidiary in Ireland. Customers may not notice the difference, since the new airline will be called SAS and will fly traditional SAS routes. Why are you doing this?

Gustafson: You’re going to get a little lengthy answer because I need to explain this. It is important.

We primarily operate within Europe and our target audience … is those who travel frequently within Scandinavia. One major destination for us is, of course, London. There’s huge traffic between London and Scandinavia, both business and leisure. The competition to London is significant. To give you an example: If you want to fly from Copenhagen to London, you can select from 25 daily departures. You can fly with SAS, British Airways, EasyJet, Ryanair, or Norwegian. Out of those five carriers, only SAS has to recruit and employ in Scandinavia. The others have them employed either, in BA’s case, in London or for the others anywhere in Europe.

Now, the average perception among customers, [is] a good price to go to London would be maybe 30 or 35 euros. And if you know then that your competitors, by flying from London to Scandinavia rather than flying from Scandinavia to London can have cost advantage around 35 percent, it’s tough to compete.

[Editors note: Gustafson is speaking about competitors like EasyJet and British Airways, which base aircraft and crews in the UK, and thus schedule planes to fly London-Copenhagen-London. SAS, meanwhile, registers planes and hires crews in Scandinavia, so it flies Copenhagen-London-Copenhagen. To the passenger, there’s no difference, but SAS has higher costs.]

We said, OK, ‘Let’s set up a new production unit.’ We put up the [airline operating certificate] in Dublin. There is lot of competence there. And we hired a very skilled team. They’re going to operate out of two bases — one in London and one in southern Spain.

We’re going to deploy aircraft in London, and we’re going to hire people who are going to fly from there to Scandinavia. We’re going to do the same thing in southern Spain to make sure we can also take advantage of the growing leisure demand from Scandinavia to Spain.

It’s not a step-by-step move to take everything out of Scandinavia. This is to complement and protect our business and make sure that we have the best offer for our frequent travelers.

Skift: It’s 2017. Should SAS have tried this a decade ago, when it first saw the threat from low cost airlines?

Gustafson: It’s always easy to look back to what you should have done in the past when you sit there with all the facts. But I’d like to draw attention to that in the last 10 years, especially the last five six years. SAS has gone through some significant transformation. We have done more than any other carrier in Europe, and we have done that almost without any conflicts. We want to provide a fantastic product to our customs. We want to make sure that our 70-year history can actually continue into the future.

Skift: Norwegian Air has four operating certificates — two in Norway, one in Ireland and one in the UK. Some U.S. interests — mainly labor unions aligned with U.S. airlines — call this unfair. But many airline executives credit Norwegian with being a fierce and fair competitor. Do you believe Norwegian competes fairly?

Gustafson: They are tough competitors. I don’t say they compete unfairly. I don’t want to go there. However, I think that in Europe, the [rules] for how we should compete are a bit blurry. I think it would be helpful if the EU would step up and say, ‘OK guys, this is the playing field, these are the boundaries on this playing field, and this is how we all need to comply.’ I think that could be improved, the clarity around those boundaries so we all feel that we all have a level playing field, and we all operate within the same boundaries. I think that’s the issue, not that they’re doing something unfair.

Skift: You compete directly with Norwegian on some transatlantic routes, including Copenhagen-New York, and indirectly on others, like Copenhagen to California’s Bay Area, and Copenhagen to South Florida. But you bundle more free stuff in your fares, such as meals, and some advanced seat assignments. Do you still have to match Norwegian’s fares because customers expect it?

Gustafson: Yeah they do. They do. But when it comes to the [premium] game, there is a significant real demand for a good business product, which as of today, [Norwegian] does not have.

Skift: Norwegian has shown customers will pay for things that used to be free, so long as fares are cheap. Might you follow at some point?

Gustafson: We haven’t made that final decision, but the answer is yes. We’ve seen that what we’ve done in Europe is say ‘OK, we need to de-bundle more in order to show up with the right price comparison.’ Why wouldn’t long-haul go the same way? I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see more de-bundling.

Skift: Has customer acceptance of Norwegian’s model surprised you?

Gustafson: A little bit I would say, because customers are clever people. They are not stupid. They just see the price for the seat. But [when] everything else they need throughout the travel is presented to them — the bag and the food and so forth — then the total price is very different. I’m a bit surprised that customers are not actually taking that into the equation when they make their purchase decisions. But it is what it is, and customers dictate what they expect from us and we need to comply.

Skift: You still give free food in coach on long-haul routes. Is that expensive?

Gustafson: Yes, of course it is. The biggest cost is not what you see. The biggest cost is not the cost for the raw material and the food itself. It’s more the logistics to get it on board, to actually produce it, and load it and all of that. That’s a significant cost.

Skift: For business class, you have a newish cabin with flatbed seats. How important is it to keep pace with other airlines?

Gustafson: It’s absolutely vital. In order to capture that market where there is a willingness to pay for a product that enables you to travel for work, you need to land refreshed. And if your product is not up to date with competitors, they will choose someone else. For us, it was absolutely vital to do this upgrade. We are extremely pleased with the product that we have today, and we are so happy about the feedback that we receive from many of our frequent travelers. They travel with our competitors as well, and many of them tell us that we have the best product in Europe at the moment. Of course, we feel good about that.

Skift: You’re expanding in the United States. Why?

Gustafson: Right now, we see a steadily growing demand for travel, and therefore we have been delighted to have been able to expand the footprint extensively in the past few years. We added Los Angeles, Miami, and Boston to the map. We have had a great response. And we see demand picking up. We are excited about it, and there might be even more opportunities going forward.

Skift: Do you find U.S. tourists visiting Scandinavia? Or do they just connect to elsewhere in Europe?

Gustafson: No, I think there are a lot of people coming to Scandinavia from the U.S. to explore what we have to offer. Of course there’s a lot of business traffic. We should not ignore that. Scandinavia is also known for its innovation, so there’s a lot of connectivity between California and Scandinavia from a business point of view.

Skift: What about Europeans coming to the United States? There has been anecdotal evidence that some Europeans are skipping a U.S. visit this year, in part because of American political turmoil.

Gustafson: So far, we haven’t seen any change in the booking patterns. There has been some media coverage that interest in the U.S. should have dropped and so forth. But we haven’t seen that in figures.

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Hotel CEOs Love Direct Booking But They Have Varied Views About Strategy

Best Western Hotels & Resorts

Best Western CEO David Kong said his company works with online travel agencies but Best Westerns’ member rates for consumers are ‘gated.’ Best Western Hotels & Resorts

Skift Take: Whether you choose to view it as a war or not, it’s fairly unanimous that nearly every hotelier wishes he or she would have more direct bookings versus bookings made through an online travel agency.

— Deanna Ting

Earlier this month, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts surprised many in the hotel industry when news leaked during its current contract negotiations that the company was threatening to abandon Expedia and its numerous online travel agency sites.

If Hyatt makes good on its threat and it doesn’t come to terms with Expedia then that might mean consumers would no longer be able to book a Hyatt hotel on Expedia and sister sites, including Hotels.com, Travelocity, Orbitz, and Hotwire, among others.

Hyatt’s potential move would be just one of many recent efforts hotel companies have launched in recent years to win the so-called direct booking wars or, in other words, to get more consumers to book directly on their own sites. Online travel agencies often charge chain hotels a commission ranging from 10 to 20 percent.

The height of these efforts by Hyatt and its peers seemed to peak last year, especially when Hilton debuted its largest-ever advertising campaign called Stop Clicking Around. Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Choice, and others also began offering discounted room rates for their respective loyalty members.

Fast forward one year later, and most hotel CEOs remain bullish about their efforts to push more direct bookings, and their success with member-only rates.

“Certainly, it’s better for the industry to do direct booking,” said Stephen Rushmore, CEO of HVS Global Hospitality Services, a hospitality intelligence business. “That seems to be happening. It happens in the airline industry now most regularly, so I think that the number of hotel brands that are having campaigns toward loyalty programs and direct booking and so forth — from what I’ve heard from senior people in those organizations — have been quite effective.”

Rushmore thinks hotels need to press ahead with these campaigns.

“I think it’s one of those things that they just have to keep on pushing and keep on campaigning. You can’t just do a one-time campaign in order to really get the consumers to change their behavior.”

Joyce’s Warning to the Online Travel Agencies

Stephen Joyce, CEO of Choice Hotels, said that his company’s member rates have been very successful since launching them last year, when speaking to Skift at the annual NYU Hospitality Industry Investment Conference.

“We’re also doing preferred rates for our members that aren’t available anywhere else,” Joyce said. “I think we’re finally in a position where we’re going to start eliminating the misperception, on the consumers’ part, that the lowest rates available are anywhere else other than ChoiceHotels.com, and we’re making really strong headway because we can see it in the numbers.”

Choice will continue to market the value of direct bookings.

“We’re going to do a lot to market and advertise around that,” he said. “For the first time in a long time our proprietary growth rate is higher than OTA growth rate, and we think we’re in a position to actually shrink the OTA contributions. Not that we don’t want the OTAs.”

Joyce said the last time Choice Hotels entered into contract negotiations with the online travel agencies was two years ago but that Choice and the travel agencies have had discussions since.

He added, “They’re not happy with their own situation. Their view is they’ve gotten a little more aggressive, while we’ve reminded them what the contract says and what we’ll do to them if they don’t behave. That has led to a mutual respect on both sides.”

Kong Thinks Smart Partnerships Are Worthwhile

David Kong, Best Western Hotels & Resorts CEO, said that while the bigger companies such as Hilton and Marriott have seen success in their direct booking campaigns, that success doesn’t necessarily trickle down to independent hotels.

“There are some, like Marriott and Hilton, who might have done a very good job with their direct booking and member rates, and their commissions [paid to the online travel agencies] might have stayed the same or have gone down, but then there are all the other hotels’ whose commissions have gone up a lot,” Kong said, citing CBRE Hotels’ Americas Research recently released 2017 edition of Trends in the Hotel Industry report.

That report found a 6.8 percent increase in commission payments in 2016 made by hotels to travel agents, online travel agencies, and other intermediaries.

“As an industry, on average, it’s gone up, but that’s no indication that Hilton or Marriott, who have been the forefront of this strategy, have seen an increase,” Kong said.

For Best Western, the best strategy is to form more strategic partnerships with online travel agencies, Kong said.

“From Best Western’s perspective,” he said. “we think OTAs are an indispensable partner. In this day and age, they are so well-known and so sought after. People want to go to OTAs, if not to make booking, at least to do their research. It makes the location, in terms of the types of hotels and price points, in certain locations, so transparent. A lot of people will use them for research and for ease of booking, and they might just book on those websites so they have become indispensable.”

So, although Kong, like his peers, wishes his hotels could see more direct bookings, he knows that online travel agencies are invaluable.

“The last thing we want to do is to treat them like an indispensable partner,” he said. “We want to work with them to see how we can create a win-win situation. Many of them are trying to launch their loyalty programs, so why don’t we work with them to also launch our loyalty program rates? They would have loyalty program rates and we would have loyalty program rates. How can we facilitate that kind of partnership? That’s what we’ve achieved.”

Kong explained how Best Western’s version of member rates works:

“We have worked out an agreement where we can each do that. Both of those rates are gated, meaning that you will have to sign-in in order to be able to see the rates and you have to enter all your credentials to be able to book those rates.”

Kong wouldn’t detail the level of discount that Best Western gives to loyalty program members but said the discounts are “very substantial.”

“They are higher than all the other brands because we think, in order to make our loyalty program differentiated, we will offer real value, aside from the earnings and redemption side, we also want them to feel like they have benefits. So the Best Western rewards members will always see a substantial discount on their rates, even on promotional rates, like advance purchase rates. They will see a better discount if they book through the Best Western rewards program.”

Red Lion Is Happy to Keep Working with Online Travel Agencies

Like Best Western, Red Lion Hotels has taken a different approach to working with online travel agencies than Hyatt or Hilton.

Last year, Red Lion announced it would offer its member-only rates on Expedia.com and Hotels.com. Consumers who book on those sites will be automatically enrolled in Red Lion’s Hello Rewards program, and Red Lion receives the consumer’s email information directly from Expedia and Hotels.com.

“Last August, I think, there was some criticism that it was either a brilliant move, or a very stupid one,” RLHC CMO Bill Linehan said. “I think the former has proven much more so. We’ve increased our customer acquisition quite a bit. We’re seeing our Hello Rewards members paying a premium. We are also seeing greater loyalty. We are seeing, as a percentage of those customers that came through Expedia and signed up for Hello Rewards, we’re seeing the repeat factor.”

Linehan is seeing interesting consumer booking patterns.

“What’s really interesting is within that repeat factor, there’s some that are continuing to book through Expedia, because that’s how they want to book,” he said. “We’re also seeing some take advantage of some of these great offers that we’re offering, and booking direct with us. So, it proves the notion of the customer acquisition. It’s also allowed us to have more serious conversations with some other OTAs, and we’ll be making some very promising announcement there as well. …

“You know,” Linehan added, “consumers click around.”

Linehan said that trying to change consumer behavior, to shift travelers away from booking on sites like Expedia or Booking.com, is in some ways, futile.

“In fact, there’s a recent study that, particularly for leisure travel, 45 days out from their travel, [consumers] click around 140 times,” Linehan said. “That’s a lot of clicking around. This information is available to us on multiple devices and every place we are all the time. Recognizing that an OTA is where consumers go to book, isn’t that a mass-market merchant marketplace?”

Which is why Red Lion is investing in working with online travel agencies, as well as in marketing.

“As a marketer, it’s my job to make certain that we’re in that mass-market marketplace, and that we stand out from the crowd in that mass-market marketplace,” Linehan said. “That means many things. It means our organic search, and listing, and or rank. It means our promotions and campaigns, are they also offered there? It means, is there a way that when we stand out, that when someone is making a selection, we’re there and we’re converting? We are.

Linehan said Red Lion has increased its “conversion quite a bit, and we are now looking at other mass-market marketplaces, and looking at some other opportunities and things that we can do.”

Red Lion may form similar partnerships with other online travel agencies, Linehan hinted.

“It’s not necessarily the exact same thing with all of them, but we will be making an announcement, literally, within weeks on what are some of those things that we’re doing with these other mass-marketplaces,” he said. “Does this mean that we’re not encouraging book direct? Of course not. We still are. What it really means is we’re not telling customers how to book us in only one way. We’re saying, ‘We want to accommodate you anyway you want to book us,’ which is a big difference.”

IHG Americas CEO Thinks Direct Bookings are bout Loyalty

Elie Maalouf, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) in the Americas, said the chain’s position on direct bookings remains unchanged from last year, and that it’s not just about direct bookings, either. It’s about building loyalty, too.

“I think our position is the same as it was last year from the beginning of when we launched our preferred member rate, which isn’t the launch of direct bookings,” he said. “I think somehow, it’s become reported that hotel companies have launched direct booking. Actually, at least at IHG since the days of Holiday Inn, we’ve always had direct bookings. In fact, at one point, it was the only way you could book, right? You had to call the hotel directly to get your booking.”

Direct booking-related benefits, he said, are only a portion of the perks for loyalty program members, Maalouf said.

“Member rates are just another feature that we’ve added to our rewards members, which is an even lower rate if they book direct. But, we give our long-timers a lot of other promotions and a lot of other benefits. They get points. They get benefits. They get upgrades. They get early check-in. They get late check out. They get this and that so it’s just another benefit for our loyalty members, a substantial one and yes, they get a lower rate if they book direct and we think it makes sense for them and for us and for our owners.”

Direct booking and rewards will always be part of IHG’s loyalty program, he said.

“But, in and of itself, it wasn’t the inception of direct booking and it won’t be the only thing that occurs either as a benefit to our loyalty members, to whom we keep adding features, like Uber membership and a Shell partnership for fuel etc., Maalouf said. “And it also won’t be the only feature around direct booking. Both will continue to be mainstays of our guest relationship. Direct booking will always be a mainstay and loyalty preferences and rewards and benefits will be a mainstay. And sometimes they intersect as they did there, and sometimes they’ll be separate benefits.”

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Orlando and Birmingham Leaders Grapple With Tourism Identities They Didn’t Want

Orlando and Birmingham’s mayors have been very supportive of tourism during their tenures. Pictured are fans at Orlando’s soccer stadium which Mayor Buddy Dyer helped to build up.

Skift Take: Mayors have power to dictate how a city positions itself for tourism. Orlando and Birmingham’s stories are ones where the mayors entered office admitting their cities weren’t being smart about tourism and they improved their marketing strategies from there.

— Dan Peltier

Many destinations wish they could shed certain reputations that they’re either not proud of or don’t fully represent what they are in 2017.

In the cases of Orlando, Florida and Birmingham, Alabama, they’d rather you didn’t exclusively associate them with major theme parks and the Civil Rights-era church bombings, respectively.

But both cities understand that being the theme park capital of the world or one of the largest bedrocks of the Civil Rights movement are still hooks for visitors that they shouldn’t avoid.

Finally, Orlando and Birmingham are embracing their pasts and presents, and using those to shape their futures.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Birmingham Mayor William Bell spoke at the City Nation Place Americas conference in New York City last week about politicians’ and city halls’ roles in promoting tourism and how they work with tourism boards to attract visitors.

Bell, who’s served as Birmingham’s mayor since 2010, said the city was trying to become something it wasn’t when he first got the keys to City Hall. “In years past, we tried to be the other Atlanta,” said Bell, speaking during the conference. “Then, we figured out we could never be where Atlanta was because, by the time we got there, they would be somewhere else.”

“Then, we tried to brand ourselves as the next Nashville,” he said. “Yeah, we got a great music scene, but it doesn’t compare to Nashville. Then, it was Charlotte and we finally said, ‘no.’ Let’s be what we are. Let’s brand our city as the up and coming great southern city that we knew we were and to invite people to come here and see the good people in our community.”

Once Birmingham acknowledged its Civil Rights past — the history that makes it unique –things began to change for the better, said Bell.

“You have to face it head-on,” he said. “For a number of decades Birmingham had tried to run away from its segregation history, but it wasn’t until we just faced it head-on to talk about it, to look at the positive things that came out of it, that we were able to turn that negative into something that was positive.”

Orlando Identity Crisis

Orlando, too, has gone through a similar identity crisis even though it has some of the world’s most iconic attractions, said Dyer.

The city in central Florida is consistently the most-visited city in the United States with 68 million visitors in 2016. But many of those visitors never set foot in downtown Orlando, for example, and instead spend most of their time at theme parks and resorts such as Disney and Universal.

“It’s a little bit of a detriment for us on the business side of things because when you’re thought of just as a vacation capital, people don’t realize that your tech industry is actually 20 or 30 years older than your tourism industry,” said Dyer, who also spoke at the conference. “It makes it a more difficult challenge to attract business and to attract millennials that you want to have in the community.”

Dyer has witnessed the evolution of Orlando’s tourism marketing efforts. He’s been mayor since 2003 and said the city hadn’t been marketing its downtown core — or really marketing itself at all — when he first took office.

Most of the tourism promotion was focused on theme parks and resorts, for example, which have no brand affinity with the city.

“One of the interesting things, I suppose, about Orlando is the primary tourism area is not located anywhere near the downtown,” said Dyer. “You can fly into the airport and drive to Disney or Universal or the convention center without being within five miles of our downtown, so it’s somewhat of a hidden treasure.”

“One of the things that we have convinced Visit Orlando to do is to market our downtown as another primary destination within the market,” he said.

Because many tourism boards get their funding approved by politicians, both Bell and Dyer recognize that their roles in supporting tourism marketing and encouraging their city councils to do the same.

Mayors as Tourism Leaders

Bell said destination marketers should be direct when working with politicians.

“I was told years ago that a mayor’s primary responsibility is to identify and create resources to cover basic services for the residents who live, work and play in the city,” said Bell. “But the second biggest responsibility of a mayor is to promote their city.”

Being in the spotlight is part of being mayor, said Bell, and that often includes being a city’s brand ambassador. “My natural personality is to be behind the scenes, not necessarily out in front, but as the mayor of Birmingham, I’m also the mayor of the entire region of Central Alabama,” he said.

“That requires me to be upfront, to participate in all aspects of moving the city forward,” he said. “If you’re not prepared to take on that role, then you’re not going to be too successful, regardless of what your personality might be. The mayor is the spokesperson for the entire community, both in good times and bad.”

Dyer, unfortunately, understands about being in the spotlight all too well. On June 12, 2016, a gunman killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, many of whom identified as LGBTQ. The Pulse shooting is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history and is considered a terrorist attack.

Suddenly, Orlando became a focus of the world. “I’ve learned a lot about terrorism incidents since that day and most communities respond with fear and hatred and anger towards the groups or individuals that have committed the atrocity,” said Dyer. “Instead, we were able to turn our community towards a response of love and compassion and unity and we are a more unified community today than ever.”

“I think that the world saw a little bit more of Orlando than just Disney and Universal,” he said. “At Universal, they saw that we were actually a very inclusive community that embraces diversity. So if there’s any small, silver lining, it’s the fact that the country and the world got to see a little bit more of Orlando.”

Bell has also brought Birmingham’s residents together to give them a stronger voice in what direction their city is going. “Once upon a time, people said that Birmingham would never change,” said Bell. “They said we will always have religion, we will always have the bombings, we will always have the conflict, but it did change.”

“We’ve invited organizations like the UN Commission on Human Rights, UNESCO and other organizations to come to Birmingham to see that change can occur,” he said. “Come and have that dialogue among good men and women to try to find the basis of coming together in a positive way. We try to brand ourselves from that perspective.”

Making Tourism Cities Livable

Engaging residents in the tourism industry is vital, especially if tourism directly supports one-third of jobs in your city such as it does in Orlando.

Dyer said most residents seem to support tourism. “We had 68 million visitors to our city last year, so if you think about that, it’s basically the population of Atlanta visiting Orlando every single day,” said Dyer. “It is a little stress on our infrastructure, but it is certainly the number one piece of our economy.”

Orlando generates about $240 million in bed taxes a year, said Dyer, that goes to both tourism marketing and economic development. “The tourism community, during the last decade, recognized that they needed to be giving back to the community,” he said.

“That half a billion dollars that we spent at the Amway Center, over half of that was first development tax from tourist dollars that was spent in our downtown, which is not one of the primary tourist areas. We’re giving back to the community in that fashion as well,” he said.

Downtown Orlando, a center for business and residential life for the city, has become a place where residents can enjoy a night on the town, for example, when in years past it was essentially a ghost town after dark.

“We have accomplished some major things in the last 15 years that I have been mayor and I don’t want to take much credit for it, but I have instilled the idea of let’s work together, let’s do this together, let’s share the credit, but also if there’s blame to share, let’s do that as well,” said Dyer. “I think that’s a theme that runs through our community.”

Millennials, in particular, have been top of mind for Dyer and Bell as they work to revitalize their cities’ downtowns and make them more appealing places to live and work. “If they feel it’s an open city, a city that they can enjoy and relax and associate with their friends and make a decent living and have fun and enjoy their lifestyle…then it just strengthens the ability of the mayor to promote his or her city and bring additional revenue in,” said Bell.

Both mayors admit their cities are a work in progress but have made significant progress. “I tell most of the people in Orlando, some of the cities that are as old as us already have their course set, right?” said Dyer. “They’re what they’re going to be. We’re not all we’re going to be. We’re like a little teenager, 14 or 15 years old and we’re still growing up and Orlando is a place of opportunity.”

To that point, Dyer envisions Orlando as becoming as big a business capital as it is a vacation capital.

While only time will tell, it’s encouraging to see mayors addressing their role in tourism promotion and showing their communities how tourism is an engine for economic development. “I’d like to have us evolve into being known as America’s 21st-century city and that entails collecting those millennials,” said Dyer. “We have three universities within 60 miles and have 200,000 students, so we have the talent there.”

Tourism is a key driver in pushing Orlando and other cities towards that goal. “Somebody told me once that the 1800s were New York, the 1900s were California and the West and this century is up for grabs and I think we’re pretty well-positioned to grab it,” he said.

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Decoding the Hoshinoya Tokyo Hotel Experience

Hoshino Resorts

The entrance to Hoshinoya Tokyo, which is parent company Hoshino Resorts’ first foray into urban hotels. Hoshino Resorts

Skift Take: The Hoshino Resorts brand melds Japanese tradition with modern design and incredible service. Its ambitions outside of Japan, if successful, may some day serve as powerful cultural diplomacy for the country.

— Colin Nagy

The Tokyo hotel market is competitive. Hospitality standards are notoriously high. For example, even a mid-market hotel here would easily achieve the top slots in other global cities.

In the Tokyo ecosystem, the Park Hyatt represents the classic and timeless, the Peninsula sits regally as a single, freestanding hotel structure on the Imperial Palace Gardens, and new entrants like the Andaz seek to carve out a fresh neighborhood hub in Toranomon. All the familiar luxury players are here, from the Shangri La to the Four Seasons, as well as institutions like the Palace and the Imperial Hotel.

In addition to considered architecture and locale, the service experience across the board is absolutely unrivaled in other cities. The Japanese art of omotenashi — thoughtful anticipation — is something that once you see it executed well, it is unmatched in hospitality.

But, all of these aforementioned hotels are approaching lodging in a traditional, Western style.

Enter the Hoshinoya Tokyo. The property is the first foray into urban hotels from the storied 100-year old hospitality company, Hoshino Resorts.which is the name of the parent company and is run by Yoshiharu Hoshino, a fourth-generation hotelier. The brand has been building slowly and deliberately in Japan, with resorts in Kyoto, Karuizawa, near Okinawa, and Mount Fuji, with the first international property opened in Bali in 2016.

Each property is architecturally unique, based on the land and surroundings. However, there is a distinctive thread in service, attention to detail, and also aesthetics, that runs through each property. You can trace this back to the same collaborators, including designers, architects, and landscape artists, working on the brand since the start. There is a considered cohesiveness to the properties even through they celebrate different regions, temperatures and building styles.

While the traditional ryokan, or Japanese inn, features elements such as tatami mats, hot springs, and highly seasonal cuisine, the brand has recently brought this approach to the center of Tokyo, and updated it with modern twists, all while preserving a hushed, relaxed feel. It is a discrete, highly differentiated experience compared to the uniform, predictable and safe Western experiences in the city.

And as the city gears up for the Summer Olympics in 2020, it is a perfect representation of modern-brand Japan, executed with style and nuance.

Upon arrival on the ground floor, guests take off their shoes. It is a deliberate gesture of hospitality to allow guests to treat the space as if it was their home. Guests not staying in the hotel aren’t invited above the lobby, and my request to take my Tokyo-based colleague on a tour was politely deterred. This is not certainly a place to bring the after-party following a night in Tokyo, and the conservatism of the space is very pronounced. It is not for every traveller.

But, I understood. There is a deliberate, peaceful sanctum they are trying to maintain. This ethos permeates the hotel, down to the western visitors who might otherwise be gregarious, and you find them adapting to speaking in hushed and respectful tones, padding around in house sandals.

After a brief check-in, I was shown to a room designed in a modern update of a ryokan. Bamboo sliding closets and windows, a low-slung bed, and low chairs. Modern touches like a transparent bathroom that frosts out with the touch of the button, as well as a television and low-key electronic controls, were elegantly integrated into the calm of the room.

Each floor has a common area with space to work, make a coffee, and relax. Relating back to the peaceful sanctum approach, it’s clear the guest room is not meant for you to crack open the laptop but this common area allows for work. True to the ryokan approach, the hotel has a stunning onsen on the roof, which after showering, leads out to an opening to the sky that is architecturally stunning, and something out of a science fiction film. It’s a perfect experience for a recharge after a long flight, or in the late evening when you can’t sleep.

The hotel approaches cuisine in the same ryokan manner with Kaiseki-style breakfast service, consisting of nuanced small plates, delivered in the room. The new basement restaurant serves French-inspired Japanese cuisine with local ingredients. As with the rest of the hotel, privacy during the meal was paramount. The restaurant served the meal in a private room with some of the best and most knowledgable service I’ve experienced in 40 trips to Japan, down to the chef explaining the dishes in detail.

Leaving the hotel, you’re transported into a central business district of Tokyo, not far from the bustle of Tokyo Station and the shopping of Marunouchi. When you return and enter  the hotel, it is as if you’re 1,000 miles away from civilization, which is the intention and also the differentiator.

A day at the hotel’s property in Fuji opened another door to the brand: Attention to its surroundings and a reverence for nature. Cabins blended into the hillside as if they were part of the landscape. Wooden platforms and sharp canvas tents for reading and relaxing were nestled into the mountain. Mount Fuji framed all of this in the background, through the pines.

A fire pit stood at the top, next to a small house that could have been air-dropped from Big Sur, with a wood-burning fireplace, games, and books to borrow. It illustrated the point that each property still is a Hoshinoya in terms of spirit, but blends artfully into the terrain and spirit of where it lives in a considerate way.

In an earlier interview with Skift about the business, Yoshiharu Hoshino stated an ambition to selectively open more resorts out in the world, eventually in the United States. Hoshino stated, “I think it is very important for us to create a new category in the hotel industry. At the same time, by introducing a Japanese hospitality in those countries we will help create more inbound demand coming to Japan in the future.”

The effort, care, and passion that goes into these spaces is a perfect introduction to Japanese culture for Westerners, and can serve as powerful cultural diplomacy that transcends words or other actions.

There will undoubtedly be challenges scaling the nuances of Japanese hospitality to far-flung locales in terms of staff and operations. Not many have done it well in the past. But if they can get it right, Hoshinoya can fill a special space in the luxury category and introduce the country to more of the world.

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The Supreme Court Has Various Options on Trump Travel Ban Ruling

Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on the Trump administration’s travel ban. Associated Press

Skift Take: Will the Supreme Court decide one way or the other this week on the travel ban or push a rolling down the road? We’re betting it will be decided this week. The arguments have all been articulated already.

— Dennis Schaal

The Supreme Court is expected to decide within days whether the Trump administration can enforce a ban on visitors to the U.S. from six mostly Muslim countries.

The high-stakes legal fight has been going on since President Donald Trump rolled out a travel ban just a week after his inauguration. He casts it as critical to deterring terror attacks in the United States.

Trump seeks to halt visits from residents of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days so his administration can review the screening procedures for visa applicants from those countries.

Opponents argue that the ban targets Muslims in violation of federal law and the Constitution, and that it stems from Trump’s campaign pledge to halt the entry of all Muslims into the U.S.

Lower federal courts have so far agreed and blocked the travel ban. One court also has blocked a 120-day halt on refugee arrivals in the United States.

A look at several ways the Supreme Court could decide what to do:

___

IMMEDIATE BAN ON TRAVEL

With the votes of five justices, the court could agree to the administration’s request to immediately reinstate the travel ban, which Trump has said would go into effect 72 hours after a favorable court ruling. The administration has said the revised travel ban Trump issued in March would avoid the chaos and confusion at airports that followed the initial travel order in January. That’s because the new policy does not apply to people already in the U.S. or with a valid visa at the time the ban takes effect, the administration has said. Opponents still worry people will be caught in legal limbo if the ban is enforced.

___

KEEP THE TRAVEL BAN ON HOLD

The court could side with opponents of the ban and refuse to let it take effect. But the administration could still conduct the 90-day review that Trump had tied to the travel ban and a revised executive order could follow. A new ban might include more countries or be made permanent, or both. A new policy almost certainly would lead to new legal challenges.

___

ARGUMENT IN FRONT OF THE COURT

Whether the court immediately allows the ban to take effect or keeps it blocked, the justices might schedule argument on the issue for the fall. But there is a fair prospect that the argument — if it even takes place — would be a sideshow. This week’s court action is the main event. That’s because the 90-day ban will have run its course before any argument takes place in the fall and, if the ban remains on hold, a new travel policy might be in place.

___

ANY CHANCE OF ARGUMENT RIGHT AWAY?

Opponents of the travel ban had suggested, under certain circumstances, that the court could hear argument and issue a decision almost immediately, before the justices leave town for the summer. That prospect always seemed remote, and is even more so during the final week of June, with the court scheduled to issue the term’s final opinions on Monday. Also, the court has worked at such a fast pace only rarely and usually in the midst of political crises, including the dispute over the 2000 presidential election and President Richard Nixon’s refusal to turn over the Watergate tapes in 1974.

___

DENYING THE ADMINISTRATION’S APPEAL

The court could effectively end the legal case by rejecting both the plea to enforce the ban and the administration’s appeal of the lower court rulings. The White House could then prepare a new travel policy. The court might be reluctant to pursue this option because the justices, not lower courts, typically are the final word when a federal law or presidential action is struck down.

___

A FULL BENCH

With Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation in April, the court now is at full strength. Gorsuch is sure to take part in weighing the ban proposed by the president who nominated him. He was a federal judge, and had no involvement in the formulation or roll out of the travel policy. As a comparison, Justice Elena Kagan resisted calls to step aside from the high court’s consideration of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Some opponents of the law said that Kagan did enough as a Justice Department official in preparing the administration’s legal defense to sit out the case. Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court in 2010.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also is expected to take part in the travel ban, despite criticism of Trump she made to The Associated Press and other news organizations last summer. She quickly apologized for her remarks.

This article was written by Mark Sherman 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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Defining the Event Speaker of the Future and 9 Other Tourism Trends This Week

Hutton Supancic  / Getty Images for SXSW

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker speaks onstage at SXSW on March 10, 2017 in Austin, Texas. SXSW is known for attracting top talent. Hutton Supancic / Getty Images for SXSW

Skift Take: This week in tourism news, we dove deep into meetings and events. What does the keynote speaker of the future look like, and how can conference planners leverage such an asset?

— Sarah Enelow

Throughout the week we post dozens of original stories, connecting the dots across the travel industry, and every weekend we sum it all up. This weekend roundup examines tourism.

For all of our weekend roundups, go here.

>>Great speakers can make or break an event. But what tips can meeting planners use to ensure they identify the best talent? And who are some of the top speakers generating buzz in the events world today? Meeting Planners Guide To Best Keynote Speakers 2017 is an attempt to answer these questions: Introducing Meeting Planners Guide To Best Keynote Speakers 2017

>>Now is the time for all travel companies to decline to be narrow-minded and to look at the big picture. For cruise lines to talk about the boost they might get in Cuba because hotels will be hard-hit is small-mindedness at its worst: Travel Companies Disappointed, Pleased or Studying Trump’s Cuba Changes

>>More audience participation and diverse speakers will make this year’s Skift Global Forum the best yet: We’re Building The Sexiest Program for Skift Global Forum

>>Skift’s data show many U.S. adults weren’t planning an international trip this year even with a stronger dollar, but for those who were a more favorable exchange rate largely wasn’t a make-it-or-break-it factor in the decision process: Travel Habits of Americans: Strong U.S. Dollar Means Little to Outbound Tourists

>>There’s good and bad in this report. Spending will continue, of course, but it is shifting into new markets and leaving some legacy markets in the lurch: What the Growing Market for Luxury Goods Tells the Travel Industry

>>European car pick ups have been a thing for decades now, but BMW’s move to add B&R to the mix is an additional selling point for the right kind of traveler: BMW Picks Butterfield & Robinson as Its Exclusive European Tour Operator

>>The Cayman Islands feels its new meal-kit campaign is new and exciting, and in many ways it is: Cayman Islands Tests U.S. Meal-Kit Service to Boost Its Food Tourism Marketing

>>Conference planners are shifting their criteria for sourcing speakers based on three disruptions: changing attendee expectations, the rise of digital engagement, and a batch of high-profile conferences redefining event design: Defining the Event Speaker of the Future — Meetings Innovation Report

>>We’ve seen both luxury hotel and luxury cruise companies develop private jet products, but this is the first time a hotel brand has headed to sea. This is easily the most interesting thing the otherwise traditional Ritz-Carlton has ever done: Ritz-Carlton Enters the Luxury Cruise Business With 3 Custom Yachts

>>Carnival Corp. reminds us that China is a small part of its business — which is true. But if the market is going to become the world’s largest as the company expects, there are a lot of complications to work through: Carnival Says China Is a Good Long-Term Cruise Bet Despite Ongoing Struggles

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Hotel Employees Get Training To Spot Human Trafficking

ECPAT International/Girls Not Brides

A child bride and her baby in Uganda in December 2013. ECPAT International/Girls Not Brides

Skift Take: Kudos to Connecticut for getting hotel workers involved in trying to identify human trafficking when it takes place at their properties. Marriott and the Connecticut Lodging Association support the training programs and others in the travel industry should get involved.

— Dennis Schaal

A new Connecticut law meant to strike a blow to human traffickers is now reaching the trenches where it can make the difference. Hospitality workers are being trained to detect and report human trafficking when they suspect the illegal activity is going on where they work.

Connecticut became the first state to require the training when the law was passed last year. All employees at the more than 500 hotels, motels and lodges in the state must receive anti-trafficking training by Oct. 1.

The training is free. The curriculum was developed by groups that include Marriott International.

So far, 165 workers have completed the program offered by Quinnipiac University School of Law, the nonprofit Grace Farms Foundation, the Connecticut Trafficking in Persons Council and the Connecticut Lodging Association. The coalition plans to hold its largest training session to date July 11 at the Grace Farms campus in New Canaan.

“The goal is to teach employees to be more aware of potential trafficking signs with the hope that employees will be in a position to report their observations,” said Krishna Patel, the foundation’s general counsel. “Our goal has always been to create an anti-trafficking model in Connecticut that would extend to the rest of the country.”

Marriott works with the anti-child slavery organization ECPAT-USA and anti-human trafficking group Polaris and has used the curriculum internally to train 6,000 company employees.

The training includes information for managers and people working in specific departments, such as safety, housekeeping and the front desk. Workers learn about sex and labor trafficking, the legal responsibilities of lodging establishments and practical tools for identifying signs of sex and labor trafficking. They also learn how to deter traffickers, report suspected crimes and help victims connect with services.

Workers generally would report suspected trafficking to managers who would then contact police. Workers also are provided contact information for anti-trafficking hotline numbers.

“Hotels being 24/7 and having so much contact with the public, the traveling public, we’re always helping law enforcement any way we can,” said Victor Antico, president of the Connecticut Lodging Association and owner of the Holiday Inn Express in Vernon.

He said he has never come across a case of human trafficking during his 20 years in the business, but said his hotel often cooperates with police on investigations. He is sending a manager to the July meeting, who will return to the hotel and train the staff.

The 2016 law also requires operators of hotels, motels, inns and other lodgings to keep records of all guest transactions and receipts for at least six months. And this month, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed legislation that toughens penalties for human trafficking to 10 to 25 years in prison. The current term is one to 20 years.

This article was written by Susan Haigh 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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