5 Top Theme Park Trends Dominating the Season

David Roark  / Disney Parks & Resorts

Guests are shown at Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in this promotional photo. Theme parks owners have been investing in new rides and attractions to draw visitors. David Roark / Disney Parks & Resorts

Skift Take: From water parks to overseas investment, theme park operators are coming up with new ways to grow their business. One common thread: Find brands that have a built-in customer base and use them to attract new visitors.

— Hannah Sampson

The world’s largest theme park operators are on a spending spree as competition for visitors grows ever more fierce.

Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, and Six Flags have all announced new plans to add rides, attractions, and entire lands in the past few months — on top of expansions already in the works.

That kind of investment is crucial for operators to hold onto their fans, Dennis Speigel, president of consulting firm International Theme Park Services, told Skift earlier this year.

“Our industry is a mature industry now, over 60 years old, and the hardest thing for us to maintain is market penetration,” he said. “And you do that through managing attrition, introducing new programs, season passes, capital investment.”

This year has presented challenges for the industry, and some operators have managed better than others.

In August, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby told analysts he was “not satisfied with our results” for the quarter that ended June 30 after attendance was disappointing at parks in San Diego and Orlando. Per-person revenue fell and the company reported a net loss after having to take a significant write-down on SeaWorld Orlando. Executives lowered the forecast for the full year.

At Six Flags Entertainment, the first six months were so much softer than expected that the Texas-based company said in late July it was no longer “probable” that it would meet financial targets for this year. During the second quarter, per-capita spending and net income fell.

“I’ll be blunt with you: I think that we can move with more urgency, I think the opportunities we have are with us right now,” CEO Jim Reid-Anderson said at the time. “And I think we need to execute faster, more efficiently, and in a more focused way to truly achieve our potential.”

Here are some of the trends that have dominated the last few months for theme parks.


The biggest blow came in early September when Hurricane Irma tore through Florida, forcing operators to close theme parks all over the state.

Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens in Tampa and Legoland Florida all shut down for at least two days. Parks escaped significant damage from the storm, but the closures and related cancellations are likely to hurt business for the quarter.

Even before the hurricane, executives at Six Flags Entertainment said weather was causing problems. Rain over the Memorial Day holiday weekend and in the last two weeks of June kept attendance lower than expected at the company’s Texas and East Coast parks.


From Sesame Street to Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Avatar, established brands are dominating the landscape when it comes to theme park additions.

Disney has made the most news on this front, announcing extensive plans in July at D23 Expo, a fan event. In addition to revealing new details about upcoming Star Wars-themed lands in Orlando and Anaheim and a Toy Story land in Orlando, the company also said new additions would be based on the Tron films, Pixar movies, and Marvel superheroes including Guardians of the Galaxy.

That followed the opening of Pandora — The World of Avatar, based on the James Cameron movie, and a renovation of an older ride that added a Guardians of the Galaxy update.

Universal Parks & Resorts opened a new Minion Park, built around the animated yellow villains, at Universal Studios Japan earlier this year. And the company announced a brand new roller coaster would be finished by 2019 at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Hogsmeade in Orlando.

Not to be outdone, Six Flags announced a lineup of new rides for 2018 this month that includes several based on DC Entertainment characters such as Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, and Cyborg.

And SeaWorld, which has been trying to shift focus away from animal entertainment to family activities, revealed plans earlier this year to build a Sesame Street-themed land at its Orlando park as well as an entire Sesame Place theme park somewhere in the United States. The company already has a Sesame Place in Pennsylvania.


Disney generated tremendous buzz with its announcement about a new immersive Star Wars hotel planned for the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando.

Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek described the hotel during D23 as “a revolutionary vacation experience” featuring a “dedicated multi-day adventure. ” There will be, he said, “starship transportation,” characters, costumes, storylines and windows with a view of space.

“It is 100 percent immersive and the story will touch every single minute of your stay with us,” he said. “It culminates in a unique journey for every person who visits.”

Even though details were limited — there’s no information yet on an opening date, price, exact location, or what “starship transportation” might entail — the announcement has industry watchers wondering if Universal might come up with a  similar concept for a Harry Potter-themed hotel.


Universal Orlando opened its latest addition, Volcano Bay, in late May. The operator describes it as a “water theme park” with an aqua coaster, raft rides, slides, and a beach.  The new attraction also fits nicely into Universal’s bid to keep visitors on-site longer, giving them more of a reason not to wander off to Disney or SeaWorld if they have a day to spare.

Six Flags Entertainment already has several water parks or water attractions within theme parks, but announced an expansion plan in April shortly after upgrading and reopening a water park in Mexico.

The company’s former CEO, John Duffey, said Six Flags would star looking to acquire water parks near its current parks, in part to drive more season ticket bundle sales.

“Taking over the operation of existing water parks allows us to expand our capacity and attendance with minimal investment providing a quick payback and high return on invested capital,” Duffey said. “We will look to accelerate this strategy in other markets as opportunities arise.”

Reid-Anderson, who replaced Duffey in July, said later that month that the water park strategy would continue.

“We have received multiple inbound inquiries from water park operators around the U.S.,” he said. “So the opportunity is not only compelling but it’s large-scale.”


U.S-based theme park companies are looking to cultivate new audiences, and much of that expansion has been in Asia.

Disney CEO Bob Iger said earlier this month that the company’s newest major expansion, Shanghai Disney Resort, was “nicely profitable” in its first year. The resort opened in June of 2016, and more than 13 million people have visited since.

Expansions in Shanghai are already in the works — a Toy Story land is coming in the spring — and the positive reception so far has Disney thinking about other possibilities in China.

“Ultimately, it opens up more possibilities in terms of other theme parks on the mainland, but we’re way early for that,” Iger said.

Universal Parks & Resorts has a park coming eventually in Beijing, and the Comcast-owned operator completed the acquisition of the 49 percent of Universal Studios Japan that it did not previously own earlier this year.

Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said in July that the launch of Minion Park in Japan had “significantly exceeded our early expectations.”

“The region holds tremendous potential for us,” he said, adding that he and other executives had just returned from a trip to China. “We are as enthusiastic as ever about bringing a spectacular theme park to Beijing.”

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Hurricane Maria: Updates From The Travel Industry

Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte  / Associated Press

A road is empty in Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria.
Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte / Associated Press

Skift Take: Some destinations preparing for Hurricane Maria were still bailing out from Hurricane Irma and the succession of intense hurricanes will have a long-term impact on many aspects of the region’s tourism industry.

— Dan Peltier

Hurricane Maria, a category five hurricane as of 5:00p.m. ET on September 19, is barreling through the Caribbean and targeting some of the same countries hit by Hurricane Irma earlier this month.

The storm is expected to make landfall as a category four hurricane (130-150 mile per hour winds) on Puerto Rico, which was mostly spared any destruction by Hurricane Irma except for widespread power outages, during Wednesday afternoon.

Before Maria hit, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company told Skift that its tourism infrastructure was in good shape post-Irma. “We’ve been open for business on the tourism front for a while post-Irma, and feel very confident we have the right preparedness plans in place [to recover quickly from Hurricane Maria],” said José Izquierdo, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.

“We’re fortunate to have recovered very well from Irma,” he said. “Our tourism infrastructure has been fully operational and we have continued to welcome visitors to the island these past few weeks. While it’s too soon to tell, we feel optimistic it will be ‘business as usual’ across our major hotel and tourism attractions as soon as possible after Hurricane Maria.”

Dominica, an island located between Guadeloupe and Martinique in the eastern Caribbean, was devastated by the storm, The New York Times reported. As of Tuesday, hurricane warnings were in effect for Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra, Vieques, and part of the Dominican Republic. The U.S. and British Virgin Islands were particularly hard-hit by Hurricane Irma.

It’s still unclear whether Hurricane Maria will impact the United States with hurricane models as of 5:00p.m. ET on Tuesday indicating the storm’s track will leave the Caribbean and turn north/northwest by Sunday.

Here’s how the travel industry is responding so far:

Dominica, September 19

“Initial reports are of widespread devastation,” said Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerri. “So far we have lost all that money can buy and replace. My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains.

So far the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with. The roof of my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn away roofs in the city and the countryside. Come tomorrow morning we will hit the road, as soon as the all clear is given, in search of the injured and those trapped in the rubble.

It is too early to speak of the condition of the air and seaports, but I suspect both will be inoperable for a few days.”

Carnival Corporation, September 18

Carnival issued the following statement on Hurricane Maria: “We are currently monitoring the track of Hurricane Maria in the Atlantic and will inform our guests who are sailing within the next two weeks of any impact to their Caribbean itineraries once the storm has passed. Our website will be updated by Wednesday at 12:00p.m.”

Carnival also posted itinerary updates on its Facebook page.

Many passengers were tweeting the cruise line their concerns on Tuesday about the storm  – and its long-term impact on the Caribbean (see example below).


Royal Caribbean International, September 19

Royal Caribbean issued the following statement on Hurricane Maria on Tuesday: “We are closely monitoring Hurricane Maria’s forecast track, and have modified both Adventure of the Seas and Allure of the Seas current itineraries to keep our guests and crew well out of the path of the storm. Our goal remains to provide notice of any future itinerary changes within a minimum of 48 hours prior to departure.

Specifically, for the 9/23 departure of Adventure of the Seas, we will provide further details no later than early Thursday afternoon. Our thoughts and prayers are with our neighbors in San Juan as they prepare for Hurricane Maria.”

The cruise line also detailed modifications to future itineraries due to impact from hurricanes on its website.

Marriott International, September 19

Marriott issued the following statement on Hurricane Maria on Tuesday: “We are continuing to closely monitor the path of Hurricane Maria. Our hotels in the current path of the storm have implemented storm preparation protocols. We have established hurricane plans and our hotel teams are well-trained to implement these plans. In addition, we are in close contact with local authorities and, as always, will take guidance and direction from them as the situation warrants it.

Plans are in place to evacuate and close our hotels if local authorities or conditions require such action. We encourage those planning to visit the storm area to check the news of the storm for the most current information and amend their travel plans accordingly. Hotels in the impacted area are waiving hotel cancellation and change fees but details will vary depending on the hotel.”

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Launching: Skift Travel App for iOS and Android


The Skift Travel app features Research Reports (subscribers only), news, alerts, and more for iOS and Android smartphones. Skift

Skift Take: The new Skift Travel app, optimized for our paid Research subscribers, is now available. Free users get access to the last 24 hour of stories.

— Jason Clampet

It is almost 2018 and we’re insanely excited launching a mobile app! Hear us out.

We’ve avoided the mobile app trap for the past five years because we didn’t want to do a news app just to do a news app with all of our stories, something you can easily do on the mobile web as well.

But we’ve now built out more and more features for our Skift Research subscribers over the last year. This includes our library of almost 100 research reports now, early access to Skift daily stories for the subscribers, monthly analyst sessions and data sheets, with more features and services to come. With this app, all of these services now come together in a handy app, with the added benefit of notifications for all of these as they get added in and offline saving and reading, a huge benefit for paid subscribers to our services.

That’s why we are very happy to announce today the launch of Skift – Travel News & Research app, version 1.0. It’s available now in Apple’s new App Store and in the Android Play store.

Anyone can download and free users will get free access to Skift daily stories, though only from the last day.

All users

Daily News: Original stories from Skift’s editors, reporters, and correspondents, only the last 24 hours of stories.

FOR Research Subscribers

Research Reports: Twice monthly reports written by Skift’s world-class research team. Download reports to your mobile device to read offline.

Data Sheets: Downloadable data, charts, and gures on travel markets, consumers, companies and trends. The sheets are fully editable and can be altered to one’s preference.

Analyst Sessions: Monthly audiocasts for subscribers only. In each session our analyst review our most popular reports and give even more insights and editorial perspective.

Early Access: Subscribers get exclusive access to original daily stories, whether news or analysis or enterprise features, available hours before non-subscribers. Get notifications on when these stories are available to subscribers.

Unlimited Daily News: Original stories from Skift’s editors, reporters, and correspondents, unlimited access to *all* the archives of daily stories.

News alerts: Get notified of major developing stories through notifications.

The app is optimized for iOS and Android smartphone devices in this first version, with plans to offer a table-friendly version for iOS devices in the future.

Learn more about Individual, Professional, and Enterprise Skift Research subscriptions from our Research specialists.

The New Skift Travel App in 1 Minute

Download from Apple App Store

Download from Google Play Store

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American Airlines Plans to Keep Prices Low on Competitive Routes

Brendon Thorne  / Bloomberg

American Airlines, like United Airlines, is being ruthless in dropping prices to match ultra-low-cost competition. Brendon Thorne / Bloomberg

Skift Take: The Great Fare War of 2017 will continue for the foreseeable future. Get those cheap tickets while you can, folks. You might never see fares this low again.

— Brian Sumers

American Airlines Group Inc. will “absolutely, positively” match discount fares from low-cost rivals, Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker said, signaling no end in sight for a price war that has knocked down industry shares this summer.

“We price our product to match the competition,” Parker told reporters at a conference in Fort Worth, Texas. “We always have, we always will.”

Airline stocks, already down 18 percent since early July, reversed an early gain after the CEO’s comments. Big airlines such as American, United Continental Holdings Inc., and Delta Air Lines Inc. are competing against discounters with a new no-frills fare class called basic economy, which offers cheaper prices in exchange for fewer amenities. The clash, centered in major airports, is nearing balance, Parker said.

“It’s not equilibrium yet, but it feels like it’s getting sorted out,” he said. “There is a market for ultra low-cost carriers and their product. They’ve proven that. Their financial performance on a margin basis is a lot stronger than ours. But we have an enormous advantage in and out of our hubs.”

American, the world’s largest airline, fell 2.5 percent to $44.19 at 12:21 p.m. in New York. The shares deepened declines after Parker’s comments, which reaffirmed his longstanding views on confronting competitors, suggested continued pressure on fares.

A Standard & Poor’s index of five major U.S. airlines dropped 1 percent after climbing earlier in the trading session. The industry gauge swooned this summer as a fare battle between United and Spirit Airlines Inc. spread to other carriers.

Weaker fares recently prompted some airlines to lower their forecasts for third-quarter revenue for each seat flown a mile, a closely watched gauge of pricing power. Jamie Baker, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co., last week ended his recommendation to buy shares in United, Spirit and American, saying lower ticket prices and higher fuel costs were crimping the industry’s profits.

“We view domestic pricing weakness as self-inflicted,” he said. “There’s certainly no firming of pricing taking place that we can identify.”

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Air Canada Solicits Bank Partners for $1.6 Billion Loyalty Program

Ben Nelms  / Bloomberg

An Air Canada aircraft at Vancouver International Airport on November 13, 2013.
Ben Nelms / Bloomberg

Skift Take: Air Canada is looking for a credit card partner to tap into revenue that the airline has long left on the table. Banks are tripping over themselves trying to get in on the new loyalty opportunity.

— Dennis Schaal

Air Canada said it’s seeking a credit-card partner as it prepares its own frequent-flier program after years of relying on Aimia Inc.’s Aeroplan.

The Montreal-based airline “will be inviting key financial institutions to participate’’ in a request for proposals, Chief Executive Officer Calin Rovinescu said in a statement Tuesday. The co-branded credit card will “yield significant value for us,’’ he later told investors at a presentation in Toronto.

Canada’s biggest airline is looking to capture more benefits from a program expected to have a net present value of at least C$2 billion ($1.6 billion) over 15 years. Aeroplan was once part of Canada’s most popular credit card, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s Aerogold Visa. The two-decade partnership ended in 2013 when Toronto-Dominion Bank took over as the primary financial partner, though CIBC can still offer Aeroplan cards under a 10-year deal.

Air Canada’s contract with Aimia runs until June 2020. The carrier has used the Aeroplan loyalty program, which offers consumers rewards including points toward Air Canada flights, for more than 30 years. Aeroplan is owned and operated by Aimia.

“International travel is the most popular reward a credit card loyalty program can offer,’’ Rovinescu said at the investor presentation. “This makes us therefore a highly desirable partner as Canada’s largest carrier with the most expansive global network and three powerful hubs.’’

Interesting Offer

Canada’s biggest banks are likely to be “extremely interested,” said Steve Allmen, president and co-founder of Loyalty & Co., a Toronto-based consultancy to the industry.

“I believe all five banks are going to look at it, but whether all five banks respond is another story,’’ Allmen said in a telephone interview, citing the possibility that existing contracts might disqualify one or more banks. For example, Royal Bank of Canada, the country’s second-largest lender, already has a Mastercard relationship with Air Canada rival WestJet Airlines Ltd.

Allen also anticipates a focus on a lender with a stronger Quebec presence such as Desjardins Group or Montreal-based National Bank of Canada. Some U.S. banks may be interested in a co-branding agreement, he said. And Air Canada may not have to choose just one.

“If Air Canada can do it right, they can actually launch with multiple partners,” Allmen said. “They don’t have to be with one partner.”

Earnings Outlook

Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Nova Scotia and National Bank declined to comment Tuesday on whether they would be interested in responding to Air Canada’s request for proposals. Representatives for three other large Canadian lenders didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.

Among other goals unveiled ahead of the investor meeting, Air Canada said it’s targeting earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization, impairment and aircraft rent to represent 17 percent to 20 percent of operating revenue from 2018 until 2020.

Air Canada is also looking to achieve annual return on invested capital of 13 percent to 16 percent during the same period, cumulative free cash flow of C$2 billion to C$3 billion, and adjusted net debt of 1.2 times EBITDAR by the end of 2020. That last ratio would be “investment-grade” worthy, Chief Financial Officer Mike Rousseau said Tuesday at the investor presentation.

Air Canada’s Ebitdar to revenue margin trails that of its U.S. rivals by about 300 basis points, and most of the gap “is primarily due to the absence of a loyalty program,’’ Rousseau said.


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Montage Resorts’ New Luxury Brand Goes Urban and Local

Montage Hotels and Resorts

The lobby of the Pendry San Diego. Montage Hotels and Resorts

Skift Take: We’ve heard many of these talking points before by hotel brands seeking to do exactly this. Consumers will respond if the product is good, not if it’s “young” and “local.”

— Laura Powell

Another year, another new luxury hotel brand. Montage Hotels & Resorts, an ultra-luxury hotel brand established in 2002, has given birth to Pendry Hotels. The newer brand, initially conceived in 2014, saw the opening of its first two properties earlier this year.

In February, the Pendry San Diego, located in that city’s Gaslamp Quarter, opened for business. The following month, the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore made its debut in the gentrifying Fell’s Point neighborhood. Slated to open next are California properties in La Quinta in 2019 (which will share a site with other properties under the Montage International umbrella) and West Hollywood in 2020.

Given that Montage only has a handful of resorts located in high-end destinations (plus a hotel in Beverly Hills, CA), why was there a need to create an entirely new brand?

According to Michael Fuerstman, Pendry Hotels creative director and co-founder (along with his father Alan, the founder and CEO of Montage), it was necessary to “bridge the gap between the lifestyle and luxury hotel spaces.” Pendry is more design-driven and fashion-forward than its parent. It’s also positioned at a slightly lower price point (nearing $300 a night in San Diego and up to $400 in Baltimore versus $600 a night for an average Montage room) and designed for a slightly younger (30 and 40-something) clientele. Additionally, Pendry may end up becoming more of an urban brand. According to Fuerstman, “We are looking at cities, both top-tier and also at pioneering neighborhoods in secondary and tertiary markets.”

Pendry, whose motto is “Know Thyself,” is aiming to give each property a distinct local flavor. For example, the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, an adaptive reuse of a 100-year-old recreation hall, is imbued with “a local understanding of the history, culture, politics and context” of the city.

Working with Fuerstman and Baltimore-based Sagamore Development, co-owned by Kevin Plank of Under Armour fame, interior designer Patrick Sutton seasoned the property with historical footnotes and nods to the city’s culture and quirks. For example, reflecting the city’s maritime heritage, rooms are designed to feel like ship cabins. The nautically-toned rooms lean masculine in design, with plenty of brass and wood touches. Minibars are filled with local treats, like Baltimore micro-brews and Old Bay potato chips, while the entrance hall sports laser-cut lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner, which was written in Baltimore during the War of 1812.

Bruce Baltin is managing director for the Los Angeles office of CBRE Hotels, a leading international commercial real estate services firm. Further explaining the logic behind the addition of the Pendry brand, Baltin, as quoted in the San Diego Tribune, says,  “There are only a certain number of sites where you can put a Montage hotel. It requires high average room rates, so they’re expensive to build and operate, and you can’t get those rates everywhere.” Both Baltimore and San Diego are areas “where a Pendry works, but a Montage cannot.”

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Theme Park Developers Plan $840 Million Project on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast

newelly54  / Flickr

Developers in Mexico have announced plans to build an $840 million theme park north of Playa del Carmen. The popular resort city is pictured here. newelly54 / Flickr

Skift Take: Tourists already flock to Mexico’s Riviera Maya for beaches and other natural sites. Will there be enough demand for wave pools, rides, and shopping to justify a nearly $1 billion theme park development?

— Hannah Sampson

Developers in Mexico have announced plans for an $840 million theme park on the country’s Caribbean coast just north of the resort city of Playa del Carmen.

The park will be named “Amikoo,” the Mayan pronunciation of “amigo,” or friend.

Many of its attractions will include cartoon characters representing figures adapted from Mexican culture.

Rides will include the “Pirates of Bacalar,” referring to a coastal lagoon to the south where pirates once lurked.

Located along the turquoise-hued coast, the park will have a wave pool, virtual tours of the sea and air, hotels and a shopping mall.

Developers said Monday that the first phase of the park is to be completed by late 2018.

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Pop-Up Flight Check-Ins at Hotels to Be Tested by Virgin Australia and Amadeus


Passengers and employees at an American Airlines check-in area at Philadelphia International Airport. Amadeus is deploying a solution to enable remote check-in for flyers in Australia and New Zealand. Skift

Skift Take: Innovations powered by cloud computing are on the way to streamline the flight check-in process, but will take some time to become available globally.

— Andrew Sheivachman

Airline passengers will be able to avoid the pre-flight ritual of lugging heavy bags to the airport and around the departure terminal as the world’s first pop-up check-in system enters service.

Devised by Amadeus IT Group SA, the technology will facilitate check-in for groups of travelers at hotels, schools, conference centers and sports stadiums, the world’s biggest flight-bookings provider said in a statement Tuesday. Bags are taken onward to the airport by truck for the usual security screening.

Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. will pioneer the service after a successful trial at Sydney’s main cruise terminal, where it allows passengers to enjoy the time before their flight unencumbered by luggage, according to local logistics specialist OACIS, which has partnered with Amadeus.

The system, which utilizes cloud-based technology to remotely access an airline’s passenger-processing system, is likely to rolled out across Virgin airports in Australia and New Zealand over the next 12 to 18 months.

One obvious candidate for expanding the service is Miami, the world’s busiest port for cruise-ship departures, OACIS Chief Executive Officer Matt Lee said in a phone interview. “They’re keen on seeing how we go down here in Australia,” Lee said. “The challenge for us will be just the pace at which we can move here, get established, and then consider where else we’d like to go.”

The beauty of the system, the executive said, is that it could be deployed almost anywhere, given its simplicity and lack of permanent facilities. “We could be there from 6 a.m. until 11 a.m. and then just close shop and go. We’ve got that flexibility.”

The UK government’s current consultation on aviation, launched in July, will explore the scope for alleviating airport pinch points through an expansion of luggage portering and in-town check-in. It cited the example of the Hong Kong Airport Express, which lets travelers drop luggage at the station two days before flying and collect it at journey’s end.

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Expedia CEO Thinks the Company Is Too U.S.-Focused Unlike Its Biggest Rival

Expedia Inc. chose finance chief Mark Okerstrom to be its new chief executive officer, quickly filling the job with a well-known internal candidate after Dara Khosrowshahi unexpectedly quit to join Uber Technologies Inc. Pictured is the Expedia mobile app on a smartphone.

Skift Take: Just like what the old CEO has been saying since 2015 when Expedia went on a mostly U.S. acquisition spree, the new CEO thinks the company has to get more global. We’ve got some ideas how. Stay tuned.

— Dennis Schaal

Travel booking giant Expedia Inc. has websites in more than 35 languages, makes at least 40 percent of its revenue outside the U.S. and has offices in 30 different countries. Still, that’s not global enough for new Chief Executive Officer Mark Okerstrom.

Okerstrom, who took over at the end of August when Dara Khosrowshahi left to lead Uber Technologies Inc., wants to make Expedia a household name for European and Asian travelers looking for hotels in their own regions. Historically, Expedia has gotten the bulk of

its revenue from Americans using the site to book domestic and foreign travel.

“We have to do a better job being a global player — and not just global in terms of having more countries in our investor relations presentation,” Okerstrom said in an interview. “We are significantly under-indexed in every major market with the exception of the U.S.”

Okerstrom’s comments come as his company’s arch-rival, Priceline Group Inc., is turning up the heat for Expedia’s domestic business by spending heavily on ads for its Booking.com travel site, which already dominates Europe. Chinese travel giant Ctrip.com International Ltd. has also been asserting itself internationally, agreeing to buy Scottish flight booking site Skyscanner last year for $1.7 billion.

Okerstrom called out Europe as a key market. “Europe is highly interesting to us,” he said. “We’ve got a huge opportunity to become much more locally relevant for the European customer.”

Staking out more of a presence outside the U.S. isn’t the only challenge Okerstrom, 44, is facing.

Expedia’s HomeAway unit is in a race with Airbnb Inc. and Priceline to capture as much of the fast-growing home rental market as possible. Right now Expedia is primarily focused on upgrading HomeAway’s technology and getting more of its properties on Expedia’s main booking sites. The next step is pushing into urban markets, where Airbnb has a sizeable lead, Okerstrom said.

Okerstrom joined Expedia in 2006, shortly after Khosrowshahi became CEO and the company spun out from IAC/InterActiveCorp. A Canadian by birth and lawyer by training, he worked his way up the ranks and was named chief financial officer by 2011. He was closely involved with Expedia’s acquisition spree over the last few years, including the purchases of Orbitz.com and HomeAway.

Khosrowshahi had already pivoted Expedia to focusing on integrating those acquisitions rather than hunting for more mega-deals. Okerstrom said he’ll continue on that path. “My focus will be very much operational,” he said. Still, acquisitions could play a role in the renewed push into global markets, Okerstrom said.

Okerstrom also must address new threats confronting the 20-year-old online travel market, which has largely kept the same business model even as other sectors of the internet, like online search, e-commerce and social media, radically changed.

One big challenge is Google, which has expanded more into travel services and gets about $14 billion in revenue from the sector each year Skift Research estimates. That’s more than Expedia and Priceline.

“We’re kind of playing both sides with them, keeping a wary eye on what they’re doing but also working closely with them to work on areas of mutual interest,” Okerstrom said of Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

Much of Google’s travel revenue comes from Expedia and Priceline, which spend billions on Google search ads every year. Okerstrom expects Google to keep building new advertising products, but doesn’t think the search giant wants to hire the amount of people needed to sign up hotels and deal with customer complaints, he said.

Perhaps an even bigger issue is whether Expedia and its peers can move forward in a world where the majority of travel isn’t booked on desktop websites at all. Okerstrom expects voice assistants like Microsoft Corp.’s Cortana and Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa will be a key part of how people book travel in the future. Instead of seeing that as a threat, Okerstrom said he thinks it’s an opportunity.

Rather than rely on Google for the majority of online ads, Expedia can strike deals to be the source of all travel information and booking capabilities with any of the players working on voice assistants, he said. Expedia has already had discussions with Microsoft and Amazon, Okerstrom said.

“The gatekeepers are more fragmented,” he said. “That creates a unique opportunity for us to be the place where ultimately all travel answers can be provided.”


©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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

Ryan Wolkov

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De Niro Calls for Rebuilding Currently Uninhabitable Barbuda

Bebeto Matthews  / Associated Press

Antigua and Barbuda’s Governor General Sir William Rodney, left, and actor Robert De Niro shake hands after they addressed a high-level meeting on Hurricane Irma at the United Nations headquarters, September 18, 2017.

Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press

Skift Take: Barbuda needs to be rebuilt. But, however well-meant De Niro’s sentiments are, there are lots of other countries that need rebuilding, too, whether they are tourism-oriented like Barbuda or not.

— Dennis Schaal

Two-time Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro came to the United Nations on Monday to appeal to all countries and organizations to help rebuild the devastated Caribbean island of Barbuda and ensure that “paradise is not lost.”

De Niro spoke at a hastily called meeting on Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane on record. The meeting of top U.N. officials and government leaders from several hard-hit Caribbean countries came ahead of the annual global gathering of the world’s leaders at the U.N. General Assembly which opens Tuesday.

Irma wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, including damaging or destroying an estimated 90 percent of the structures on the small island of Barbuda, which is home to about 1,400 people and the site of a resort co-owned by the actor.

De Niro recalled Barbuda as an “unspoiled beauty, a paradise found” on his first visit years ago. Now, he said, “we have a humanitarian crisis, an entire island destroyed.”

“We must act together to help the most vulnerable,” De Niro said. “The recovery process will be a long, hard road. Barbudans must be a part of it, their homes repaired stronger, rebuilt stronger, new homes stronger. The immediate needs — power, water, food, medical care, animals sheltered — must be met.”

De Niro and James Packer, son of the late Australian media mogul Kerry Packer, bought the K Club Resort last year and renamed it the Paradise Found Nobu Resort.

De Niro spoke of all the “warm and friendly” people he has gotten to know on Barbuda who were “looking forward to a new resort and jobs and future for them and their children.” He did not say how the hurricane affected the resort.

The governor general of Antigua and Barbuda, Rodney Williams, told the meeting that when Irma thundered through, “immediately Barbuda was rendered uninhabitable.”

“Its ferocity forever changed the landscape of Barbuda, and as the sun rose the next day the destruction was horrific,” he said.

He noted that the entire population has been moved to nearby Antigua. “For the first time in over 300 years, there is today not a single human being living on Barbuda.”

Williams said the preliminary estimate for rebuilding Barbuda is $300 million, which represents more than 20 percent of the country’s GDP.

“Barbuda is not a lost cause,” Williams said. “We can re-establish the island, better and more secure as a productive tourism center and as a safe homeland with which its inhabitants are desperate to reunite.”

But he said Antigua can’t rebuild Barbuda alone and he echoed De Niro in urging governments, international financial institutions and development agencies “to help us in this virtuous and vital cause.”

This article was written by Edith M. Lederer 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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Author: Ryan Wolkov

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