The Airline Business Is So Good U.S. Carriers Are Dropping NFL Charter Flights

Charlie Riedel  / Associated Press

The Denver Broncos arrive at Super Bowl 50 in 2016. Denver is keeping its relationship with United Airlines, but some NFL teams are losing their charter agreements with airlines. Charlie Riedel / Associated Press

Skift Take: Business is strong now for U.S. airlines, and it’s possible they have more profitable opportunities than flying NFL teams. The NFL is not the first sports enterprise to run into the trouble. The NCAA has also been having trouble finding charters for basketball teams.

— Brian Sumers

Some NFL teams may have to alter their travel schedules as airlines balk at providing charter flights.

Others seem to have little or no concern.

Several airlines have indicated they are either diminishing their presence in the charter flight area or are shifting those planes to commercial flights. The Pittsburgh Steelers say they are one of the clubs told that American Airlines has ended their charter agreement.

“We are in the process of figuring out what charter or airline service we will be utilizing this upcoming season,” team spokesman Burt Lauten told The Associated Press.

American also is dropping charters for the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals for the upcoming season.

But American, which has a hub in Dallas, is not dropping the Cowboys. It also is continuing its partnership with the Carolina Panthers.

The Denver Broncos say there are no changes in their arrangement with United Airlines.

The Cardinals said: “We are confident that our air travel needs will be met and (American’s withdrawal) won’t affect our plans in any way.”

While many other teams say their charter transportation situations are status quo, several would not comment when asked by the AP.

The NFC champion Atlanta Falcons said they have not been informed of any changes in their agreement with Delta. The airline is based in Atlanta, so dropping the Falcons wouldn’t be a particularly popular move by Delta.

San Francisco noted it makes travel arrangements once the league schedule is announced; that announcement will be on Thursday night.

The decisions by the airlines originally were reported in the blog One Mile at a Time, which also identified which teams have affiliations with what airlines. According to the site, United has 15, American has nine, Delta has eight and Hawaiian has one (Oakland). Tampa Bay was listed as participating with Delta and United.

Copyright (2017) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

This article was written by Barry Wilner from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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Disney’s Newest Land Is Meant to Add a Literal Glow to Animal Kingdom


Joe Rohde is shown as he speaks about the new Avatar attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in an official video. Disney

Skift Take: Disney’s Animal Kingdom needed more attractions to get visitors to stay longer, but will Avatar be the key to boosting the park’s popularity?

— Hannah Sampson

Walt Disney World’s youngest park has been trying to stay up late for awhile now.

Animal Kingdom, the fourth addition to the Orlando resort, has typically been a partial-day park since it opened in April of 1998. It started experimenting with extended hours last spring, opening some rides at night and adding an evening show that finally made its official debut in February.

With the opening of an entirely new land based on the film Avatar on May 27, that transformation is expected to be complete. For the height of summer, closing time will be 11 p.m., with Disney hotel guests allowed to stay until 1 a.m.

The 12-acre Pandora — The World of Avatar, first announced in 2011, includes two rides (one for flying, one for floating); shopping; a restaurant; drink stand; and rainforest areas meant for meandering. There are also, somehow, floating mountains. The land has been created in collaboration with filmmaker James Cameron and his film production company Lightstorm Entertainment, and is set a generation after the events depicted in the 2009 blockbuster.

“The whole experience experience is sizable, and it is an add-on to Animal Kingdom, which has always been a good park, but it has never been a full-day experience,” Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Robert Iger said of the Avatar attraction earlier this year. “So we added…a nighttime safari experience and some other entertainment, and by adding this, we’re going to be turning our fourth gate — the last one to be opened in Orlando — into a much fuller experience.”

Joe Rohde, the Walt Disney Imagineering executive who headed up the team that dreamed up, designed, and built Animal Kingdom, described Pandora as “a linchpin in this whole transformation of Animal Kingdom into a place that’s going to run at night.”

At a media event in New York City this week, Rohde — whose title is creative portfolio executive at Walt Disney Imagineering, and who is overseeing the Avatar project — spoke at length about the park’s transition, the work that has gone into the new land, and what visitors can expect (and not expect) to find. Below are five takeaways from that conversation.

Animal Kingdom is going all in on the nighttime experience in the Pandora land.

First, some history: When the park opened nearly 20 years ago, night operations were not possible because of inability to light and monitor the animal population, Rohde said. Technology has come a long way since then.

“What can be done with light, the nature of light bulbs, all this stuff is different and it all opens up possibility that just wasn’t there,” he said.

Rohde said the Avatar attraction became the right way to anchor the night experience because bioluminescence was an important part of the land’s identity.

“If you’re going to choose to make Animal Kingdom run into the night, making this happen with an installation that features bioluminescence is a strategically smart thing to do,” he said. “Because it’s so much about night.”

When the sun starts to set, the environment begins to glow.

“This is not passive glow,” Rohde said. “It moves, it pulses, it communicates, it reacts to you. The paving under your feet is alive, the mountains in the background are glowing with bioluminescence and you can see the footprints of animals you might have missed by day that now are glowing by night as you look through the environment.”

Sound elements were an important part of the land’s design.

“Now we have an entire sonic environment that we built here that is unlike anything we’ve ever done,” Rohde said. “It changes literally from the moment the sun comes up to the end of the day past midnight. It is not repetitive; it is an evolutionary arc that mimics the kind of sounds you would hear were it to be real.”

Bug sounds start with sunrise, and the noise changes through the day, transitioning to “cacophonously noisy” around sunset and then mellowing into the music of frogs and crickets at night.

“If you were a field biologist, you could walk through this land and identify what was happening by the sonic environment around you,” Rohde said. “It is that realistic.”

Familiarity with the James Cameron film is not necessary, but fans should be happy.

The movie is set in a a time of conflict on the alien world of Pandora that is populated by giant blue indigenous beings called Na’vi and Avatars, or creatures controlled by human brains.

But Disney executives swear no one needs to know that before visiting.

“Everything you need to know about Avatars, everything you need to know about banshees, everything you need to know about Na’vi you will learn in the process of this journey,” Rohde said. “You do not need to refer because that’s just not good storytelling… You don’t start a story by saying, ‘Remember that other story?’ You start a story by saying ‘once upon a time.’”

For those who do know the story — and there were some fans who proclaimed a great desire to inhabit the fictional world of the movie — Rohde said there will be elements familiar and new.

“You have to have an entry-level structure in a story that everybody understands and everybody gets,” he said. “Then you just keep layering. So yes, there’s all kinds of stuff in that world that, if you know the world of Avatar, you will be, I think, very interested in seeing…It’s not simply revisitation, it’s extention. There’s stuff you’ve never seen that is consistent with that world.”

Giant Na’vi creatures won’t be roaming the park. 

“The physical Na’vi, actual Na’vi, are impossible to costume, their actual body shape,”  Rohde said. (He meant, of course, the fictional characters depicted in the film.)

“They’re not only tall — they’re nine, 10 feet tall — and their waist is this big around, their necks are really long,” he said. “You can’t do it. So when you se the Na’vi, you see them in context of the rides in various forms.”

There is a ride that simulates flying, but don’t compare it to Soarin’.

Rohde cautioned that the thrill ride in the new land, Avatar Flight of Passage, isn’t easily described.  It involves 3D glasses, flying on the back of a banshee, and “an entire suite of body sensations that come from the seat and a gigantic projected surface.”

When a journalist asked about the similarity to Soarin’, a multi-passenger simulated hang gliding ride at Epcot, Disney California Adventure, and Shanghai Disneyland, Rohde said it doesn’t compare.

“It’s much more physically dynamic, and because it’s more physically dynamic, that means it can be fantastically visually dynamic,” he said. “Soarin’ is soaring, right? This is like flying, like zooming and diving, curlicues and jumping, it’s dynamic.”

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Egypt’s Tourism Industry Takes Another Step Back as Attacks Target Popular Destinations

Lee Horrocks  / Flickr

A string of recent attacks across Egypt, including at St Catherine’s Monastery, pictured here, has Egyptian tourism officials concerned about their industry this year. Lee Horrocks / Flickr

Skift Take: Egypt hasn’t gotten much of a break during the past six years between a string of political unrest and attacks that both help project a neon sign over the country that reads “off limits” to tourists.

— Dan Peltier

The Islamic State’s Egyptian affiliate claimed responsibility for an attack on a police checkpoint near St. Catherine’s Monastery in south Sinai, the latest strike by the group against Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority and the country’s vital tourism industry.

One policeman was killed and three others were wounded when militants opened fire at the checkpoint, the Interior Ministry said in a statement late Tuesday. Several militants were also injured in the shootout. The Islamic State claim was reported by SITE Intel Group, which monitors jihadist channels on social media.

Authorities had already declared a three-month state of emergency and vowed stronger anti-terrorism measures after twin church bombings on Palm Sunday left at least 45 dead and dozens wounded. The Islamic State also claimed those attacks, as it expands beyond its local base in north Sinai and targets Egypt’s orthodox Christian minority ahead of Pope Francis’s visit later this month.

St. Catherine’s Monastery is popular among visitors in its own right, while its proximity to key tourist sites including the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh is also a potential setback for Egypt’s struggling tourism industry. Visitor numbers have yet to recover since the 2015 downing of a Russian passenger jet after it took off from Sharm El-Sheikh killed all 224 on board.

Boosting tourism is a key component of Egypt’s plan to revive the economy. Authorities floated the currency last year to end a crippling dollar shortage and to finalize a $12 billion International Monetary Fund loan. The decision, along with an accompanying cut in fuel subsidies, caused inflation to surge.

The IMF on Tuesday lowered its projection for Egypt’s economic growth this year to 3.5 percent, though it also said reforms underway would drive a 4.5 percent expansion in 2018.

This article was written by Tarek El-Tablawy from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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Some American Airlines Pilots Say Their Uniforms Make Them Sick

Skift Take: This uniform saga has been a mess for American Airlines. But keep in mind, the pilot union has not been happy with American management for awhile, and it usually looks for any opportunity to criticize the airline’s executives. American says only four pilots have complained.

— Brian Sumers

American Airlines pilots will be surveyed about reactions to the carrier’s new uniforms after about 100 reported rashes, itching and other symptoms similar to those experienced by hundreds of flight attendants.

Some aviators said recently they had red, swollen eyes and a general ill feeling even though they had been wearing the new clothing since September, according to Dennis Tajer, an Allied Pilots Association spokesman. The union plans to ask pilots later this week for feedback on reactions and advise them on what steps to take in response, he said Wednesday.

“They have to be fit for duty,” Tajer said in an interview. “If the uniform is making them not fit for duty, then something has to change.”

American distributed 1.5 million pieces to 70,000 employees in its first major uniform change in 30 years. The airline has declined to recall the clothing.

Twin Hill, a unit of Tailored Brands Inc., supplied the new uniforms and has worked with the airline and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants on testing since employees began reporting reactions. So far, nothing has been found to cause the problems.

American offered employees several options to replace uniform pieces, including an alternate supplier for flight attendants and customer service agents. Pilots have been given non-wool and cotton versions from Twin Hill, and the airline is working to secure another option, said Ron Defeo, a spokesman for American Airlines Group Inc. Employees also are being allowed to wear old uniforms.

“Whatever they find in their survey, we’re happy to meet and discuss it with them,” he said. “We’ve shown we’re willing to work and find solutions. We’d do the same with pilots.”

The flight attendants’ union has said more than 3,000 of their members have filed complaints since receiving the uniforms. American sets the count among all employees at about 800, including four pilots.

A representative for Tailored Brands didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The pilot cases were reported Tuesday by the Chicago Business Journal.

–With assistance from Lindsey Rupp

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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The Future of Online Bookings for Small Event Space — Meetings Innovation Report

Gild Hall

Gild Hall in New York is bookable via Bizly. Gild Hall

Skift Take: Companies can now expand their use of online platforms to book small meetings in creative venues, because they now have the ability to message venues directly in real-time and integrate compliance requirements.

— Greg Oates

The Future of Meetings & Events

The last few years have seen a rise of online platforms to book small meeting spaces in creative venues, including sites such as Bizly and Spacebase. They’re designed to alleviate the headaches around the manual request-for-proposal (RFP) process by providing instant direct booking capability and non-negotiable lowest rate guarantees.

“No one wants to use RFPs for small meetings today; they are universally hated by both suppliers and buyers,” Ron Shah, founder of Bizly, told me. “Suppliers generally have less than one percent conversion, and buyers always have to wait endlessly to hear back from them. And then there’s all of this negotiation that has to be processed manually, either via email or phone or whatever. It just sucks for everyone.”

However, enterprise clients want added customization and compliance systems built into these platforms in order to use them more often company-wide. Jumping on that, Shah relaunched an expanded Bizly website this month with a new instant messaging center, so planners can speak directly with venue staff, and a new integrated compliance mechanism. This could potentially kill the RFP for organizing small meetings under 100 people. Read the full Skift story here.

— Greg Oates, meetings editor

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Social Quote of the Week

“Technology is everywhere at #IMEX17! Here’s all the #EventTech that you will be able to explore at the show.

@IMEX_Group on Twitter

Next Generation Event UX

Bizly Wants to Kill the Traditional Booking Process For Small Corporate Events: For online meeting space booking platforms like Bizly to be profitable, they have to offer both automated purchase capabilities and chat functionality with live venue staff to satisfy the demands of enterprise clients. Read more at Skift

The Critical Role of Meeting and Event Planners in the Networked World: BizBash CEO David Adler wrote this call-to-arms for event planners to evolve as “collaboration artists” with a greater understanding of business strategy, social interaction dynamics, and the potential of face-to-face network building to drive organizational growth and innovation. Read more at BizBash

What Do Millennials Really Want From Brand Events?: The smartest marketers are courting millennials through experiential marketing across the online/offline spectrum. From branded activations at music festivals to seasonal pop-up shops, smart organizations are leveraging the crucial link between brand events and brand loyalty. And it all starts with a modern event website because “design is insanely important” for Gen Y. Read more at Splash

Raconteur Launches The Business Events Special Report: The 2017 Business Events special report, published in The Times, explores how planners can elevate their event designs in the digital age. The report covers how to harness the latest tech innovations to create immersive experiences and use engagement data to better understand attendee motivations. Read more at Raconteur

How Artificial Intelligence Will Elevate Human Interaction: As robots and artificial intelligence become more commonplace in everyday society, the conference industry has a big opportunity to capitalize on new technologies to connect event attendees. Tech expert Inma Martinez says: “This is the talk of the town right now — the link between artificial intelligence and human capital.” Read more at Convene

Event Content Curation: World-Class Tips from a TEDx-pert: Fenella Kernebone is the head of curation for TEDxSydney, and she  is responsible for leading the programming for what has become one of the largest TEDx events in the world, and managing a team of over 20 curators and producers. Here’s some of her insights on how to create high-impact event content. Read more at Event Manager Blog

A Face-to-Face Request Is 34 Times More Successful than an Email: New research in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that people tend to overestimate the power of their persuasiveness via text-based communication, and underestimate the power of their persuasiveness via face-to-face communication. Read more at Harvard Business Review

Destination Disruptors

The Sydney Culture Essays: Every city needs to do this. A wide swath of Sydney’s business, academic, community, and government leaders published the new Sydney Culture Essays to position the city’s role as a world innovator. Check out Business Events Sydney CEO Lyn-Lewis Smith’s article: Culture’s Role in Attracting Bright Minds to Sydney. Read more at The Sydney Culture Essays, produced by The Committee for Sydney

Los Angeles Wants Its ‘Everyone is Welcome’ Campaign to Connect With Global Millennials: Los Angeles is part of a trend across major global cities as they attempt to distance themselves from the less welcoming rhetoric coming from parts of their countries. Read more at Skift


The Skift Meetings Innovation Report is curated by Skift editor Greg Oates []. The newsletter is emailed every Wednesday.

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Trump Travel Ban Prompts Emirates to Cut U.S. Capacity


An Emirates A380 is shown in this promotional photo. The carrier is cutting its U.S. capacity. Emirates

Skift Take: President Trump’s travel ban was bound to have an impact on demand from the countries affected by it, so Emirates’ decision shouldn’t come as a shock. It will be interesting to see if there is any sort of reaction from the U.S. carriers that have been so critical of the Gulf airlines.

— Patrick Whyte

The Middle East’s biggest airline says it is reducing flights to the United States because of a drop in demand caused by tougher U.S. security measures and attempts by the Trump administration to ban travelers from a number of Muslim-majority nations.

Emirates said on Wednesday that the reductions will affect five of its 12 U.S. destinations, starting next month. It called the move “a commercial decision in response to weakened travel demand” in the three months since President Donald Trump took office.

Twice daily Emirates flights to Boston, Los Angles and Seattle will be reduced to once a day. Daily flights to Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando will be pared down to five per week.

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Bizly Wants to Kill the Traditional Booking Process For Small Corporate Events

Mercer Hotel

The Mercer Hotel in New York participates in the Bizly platform. Mercer Hotel

Skift Take: For online meeting space booking platforms like Bizly to be profitable, they have to offer both automated purchase capabilities and chat functionality with live venue staff to satisfy the demands of enterprise clients.

— Greg Oates

Booking a private dining room or hotel meeting space for a small corporate group can sometimes require almost as many back-and-forth emails and lengthy negotiations between the venue and customer as a larger conference.

Let’s say an administrative assistant is tasked with organizing a sales strategy lunch for 10 people in another city. The process might begin with searching multiple hotel and event venue websites, followed by emails to determine rate and availability, and then there’s the whole request-for-proposal (RFP) process to consider different bids.

All of that requires an inordinate amount of time, waiting, delays, stress, and expense to organize a 90-minute meal.

Last year, Bizly launched an iOS app and website providing hotel rooms and event venues that companies can book on demand via an automated platform, which closely resembles the Airbnb user interface and experience. With Bizly, customers search through meeting and event venue listings geographically, using price and various amenity filters to narrow the field of options, just like Airbnb guests do to search for home-shares.

In 2016, Bizly featured 300 hotel venues primarily in New York and California available via instant booking. By the end of this year, the goal is to have 10,000 properties listed in 75 cities, including hotels and non-hotel venues, available via both instant booking and a new customized booking option.

According to Bizly founder Ron Shah, while his customer repeat rate was around 80 percent in 2016, the overall customer volume was less than anticipated, and the cost of new customer acquisition made the economics challenging.

After meeting with his existing corporate clients, who include numerous well-known technology companies, Shah realized he needed to expand Bizly’s product to make it more attractive at the corporate enterprise level, versus for just the individual mid-level employee who needs a fast-turnaround for booking a company gathering.

“During those discussions, we learned very quickly that there are some huge pain points for large companies when it comes to booking small meetings under 100 people, which no one has solved,” said Shah. “There’s billions of dollars happening around small meetings and events, and it’s totally fragmented. For example, small events are being charged on corporate cards, and it’s often going into general T&E (travel and entertainment) expenses, when in reality it’s a small meetings expense.”

Shah explained that most online meeting booking sites, ranging from Cvent to Groupize, are designed primarily for meeting planning departments, but no one else on the corporate buyer side really uses those platforms.

So, first, Bizly needed to evolve and expand to offer the capability to aggregate all of the small meetings spend happening across different company departments, because if that event purchasing is miss-classified, it means it’s not being tracked, measured, and reported appropriately.

And, equally important, the Bizly site needed to be “consumerized” with more contextual content on the front-end, so buyers could use the search engine more effectively, and dummy-proofed on the back-end so suppliers in any department could more easily navigate the corporate dashboard to better leverage the suite of data analytics and reporting processes.

Another challenge for enterprise clients, the lack of a consolidated platform for sourcing, booking, and expensing small meetings online across an entire company ecosytsem also poses numerous compliance problems when accounting departments lack codified systems at scale to ensure competitive venue pricing and honor preferred partner agreements.

On top of all that, the biggest pain point for everyone involved in booking meetings is the despised RFP.

“No one wants to use RFPs for small meetings today; they are universally hated by both suppliers and buyers,” Shah said. “Suppliers generally have less than one percent conversion, and buyers always have to wait endlessly to hear back from them. And then there’s all of this negotiation that has to be processed manually, either via email or phone or whatever. It just sucks for everyone.”

Real Time Messaging For Online Meeting Planning

To address those issues for enterprise clients, Bizly launched an upgraded platform this month with an integrated compliance mechanism and real-time messaging built directly into the booking process.

There’s also now expanded listing content produced by local meeting professionals to provide more context around the overall design vibe, neighborhood environment, and guest experience at each property. And there’s a broader scope of hospitality venues available, beyond just hotels and restaurants, ranging from bowling alleys to vineyards.

Customers with corporate emails can still book meeting and event space instantly on the iOS app like before. The new beta website, meanwhile, is temporarily invitation-only for Bizly to test the new chat functionality and compliance system with its existing corporate clients.

Shah says that about 80 percent of corporate use cases require advance planning to iron out custom meeting requests, even for small events. So one of the big changes on the expanded website is the addition of the “Request to Book” option, which supplements the instant booking capability. It’s designed for customers who want to further customize a booking to cater to attendees with special demands, such as menu preferences, or who require special equipment or have more granular questions.

After choosing a venue and selecting Request to Book, the customer is then placed into a message center where they can chat in real time directly with an event services staff member at the venue. The employee’s working hours and average response time are both visible to the end user.

The venue has the opportunity to upload floor plans, brochures, menus, and anything else to provide as much detail as possible about its listing. For those customers who want additional information before booking, or to negotiate rates and add-ons, they can chat with the venue host in the message center, just like an Airbnb guest can chat with a prospective host.

Therefore, the venue now has a tool to create a custom shopping cart, and the customer can tag their purchase by department, employee, venue, and/or city before forwarding an invoice to procurement.

Corporate executives with administrative access can track all of the conversation between the buyer and supplier, which is important for compliance and transparency reasons. Admins can also pull in as many company employees as necessary into the message center, as well as third parties like a travel management company, for a complete overview of the transaction.

There’s also a shared calendar attached to each order for teams to collaborate and comment on the transaction details. That’s attractive for marketing and finance executives to share any relevant company priorities or client insight specific for any given booking.

To better address compliance thresholds, administrators are also able to set caps for spending. So if a meeting venue or hotel room rate exceeds a pre-determined limit, then the person securing the venue is unable to finalize the booking, and the order is rerouted to the designated manager for approval.

Furthermore, admins can stipulate the need for competitive offers if the rate exceeds the cap, in which case the system requires multiple listings for each order. They can also upload preferred agreements with hospitality companies to further direct the venue search process.

“We’ve built this with a very consumer-centric and content-first approach, because we said, ‘Let’s empower the customer with as much information as possible, and seamless access to talk directly to the venue,’” explained Shah. “Other platforms like Cvent give you a little bit of information, but not much, because they want you to do an RFP. That’s where their business is. Our model is different. We don’t want you to do an RFP. We want to kill the RFP.”

Looking ahead, Bizly is developing a review engine from the ground up, but Shah said that will take some time to populate. He’s also working on integrations with platforms like Eventbrite so customers can create custom event pages from within the system.

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Pilot Shortage Is a Factor In United Moving Away From Regional Jets

United Airlines

Pictured is a United Embraer E175 used by United Express. The airline will be transitioning some regional jet service toward mainline aircraft in domestic, business markets. United Airlines

Skift Take: United is reversing strategy and downplaying regional jets in favor of mainline service on important business routes domestically. The about-face from former CEO Jeff Smisek’s strategy under current execs Munoz and Kirby will have rivals likely redrawing their own plans.

— Dennis Schaal

Just as United Airlines grapples with the fallout of a customer service debacle, the carrier is embarking on a growth spurt—an effort to regain what its president dubs “natural market share” after years of decisions that ceded traffic to rivals.

In the second quarter, United plans to boost domestic growth by as much as 5.5 percent as its mainline flights expand and regional jets disappear on marquee business routes such as Chicago-Washington and Newark-Atlanta. The switch to larger jets for many destinations is meant to show United has a superior product while making it more competitive with domestic rivals. United also wants to command higher shares at its hubs, much the way its competitors do in cities such as Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Charlotte and Detroit.

“This is not trying to go invade someone’s hub. This is about restoring United to where it should have been,” President Scott Kirby told analysts Tuesday, seeking to assure them that turf battles and fare wars aren’t in the offing.

The timing, of course, is a bit awkward given the ferocious, global denunciation the airline faced last week over that incident in Chicago. The carrier called airport security to an O’Hare gate April 9 when Dr. David Dao declined to relinquish his seat to an airline employee. Dao suffered a concussion, broken nose, and other injuries when security personnel dragged him from the plane. His lawyers said he plans to sue.

United executives said Tuesday they have fielded “appropriate questions and concerns” from corporate customers and are reviewing the assault on the passenger, as well as new policies aimed at preventing a recurrence. Naturally, that review will revive news of the incident and bring fresh attention to it when United makes the report public later this month.

Rare domestic growth

The planned domestic growth at United, while modest relative to low-cost carriers, is rare in this era in which four huge airlines that have carved up most of the U.S. market. American Airlines Group Inc. plans systemwide second-quarter growth of 1 percent, while Delta Air Lines Inc. plans growth of 1 percent or less, and possibly none. Domestically, Southwest Airlines Co. has targeted 2.5 percent growth for the full year.

The United hub growth strategy, begun under Kirby, the former American Airlines president, is a marked reversal from United’s network approach following its 2010 merger with Continental. Under former CEO Jeff Smisek, the airline turned to regional flying and shrank domestically in response to weak financial returns relative to the industry.

“United did a lot of cumulative actions in the past three or four years which caused it to lose its natural share and which hurt its financials,” Kirby said to the analysts, adding: “And you guys used to get on this earnings call and beat them up.” Wall Street’s proposed solution of cutting capacity just made things worse, he said.

The new strategy is also driven by the tight supply of pilots in the regional jet industry. “Everyone knows that United never should have been flying regional jets in markets like Chicago to Washington National or New York to Atlanta,” Kirby said.

He cited United’s 1,200 daily seats on six mainline flights between Atlanta and Newark, restored from the 300 it flew with 50-seat regional jets on the route for several years. Amid United’s prior downsizing, Delta retained its 1,800 daily seats on a dozen mainline flights between those cities, Kirby said, helping that airline to boost the 60 percent market share it enjoyed as United’s 40 percent share slipped. It is now aiming to return to the same “natural” level as before.

Ticked off

Investors remain skeptical that United’s new flying will work in tandem with higher profits—United Continental Holdings Inc. shares dropped 4 percent Tuesday. Also unclear: Will the rest of the industry stand pat as United builds greater market share, even if it’s focused on the carrier’s own hubs?

“There is no natural share, everything is market share,” said George Ferguson, an aerospace and defense analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “When you’re expanding, you’re trying to take market share. Delta is going to be ticked.” He said United is “talking right at business travel and when you’re talking about business travel, there’s going to be a fight to keep it.”

Cowen & Co. analyst Helane Becker echoed that sentiment in a client note Tuesday: “So far there hasn’t been a competitive response, but these are high-value business travelers we are speaking about. We do not believe this strategy will be ignored by the other airlines.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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Nearly Half of UNESCO Sites Don’t Have Plans to Manage Overtourism Challenges

John Seb Barber  / Flickr

Many UNESCO sites lack an extensive tourism management plan. Pictured are tourists taking photos at Iguazu National Park in Argentina. John Seb Barber / Flickr

Skift Take: UNESCO sites — of all places — should be the destinations taking leadership roles in tourism management planning as they’re often the first place many tourists think about when deciding what to do on a trip. But data show that’s far from reality for a variety of political and economic reasons.

— Dan Peltier

Exploring natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef or Yellowstone National Park in the United States is a top reason why many travelers choose to visit destinations, as unique sites like these collectively receive tens of millions of visitors each year.

A recent study, however, found that many of these sites don’t have a tourism management plan in place and aren’t doing enough to prevent negative impacts from mass tourism.

Some 105 sites (46 percent) of the 229 natural UNESCO sites, many of which are national parks or wildlife reserves, for example, have no active tourism management plan, according to researchers at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia who were commissioned by UNESCO to analyze the level of tourism planning across the world’s natural UNESCO sites.

Tourism management plans outline sustainable tourism development goals such as monitoring the number of visitor arrivals and identifying specific areas zoned for tourists that are the foundation of the UNESCO organization. But only 11 of these natural UNESCO sites have a dedicated tourism management plan that isn’t integrated with a larger management plan for the site.

Including tourism planning as one of many parts in a larger management plan is more common than dedicated tourism plans for UNESCO sites. Some 84 sites include tourism planning as part of their overall management plan but don’t have a dedicated strategy specifically for tourism.

China, for example, has 12 natural UNESCO sites but only nine have extensive tourism management plans. “In terms of years since listing, newer or more recently inscribed World Heritage sites were more likely to have extensive planning or at least moderate tourism planning, compared with sites that had been listed a very long time ago,” the study states. “Possibly this reflects the more recent nature of the tourism growth phenomenon or the greater expectations associated with tourism planning in more recent years.”

The researchers used UNESCO’s list of 229 natural World Heritage Sites to search the Internet for their tourism management plans — if they even exist. The analysis doesn’t account for UNESCO sites without an online presence or those that researchers weren’t able to find through Google searches.

Cultural sites, such as Vatican City or the Pyramids of Giza, weren’t part of the analysis and the number of UNESCO sites with tourism management plans would likely be higher if those sites were included in the study.

Some 18 sites have tourism management plans that have expired, such as in Australia where three of its 16 natural UNESCO sites have outdated plans. “Decades of academic research and practical experience have shown that the relationship between tourism and protected areas is complex, partly because of the often conflicting economic focus of tourism and the conservation priorities of protected areas stakeholders,” the study states.

Indeed, many of these natural UNESCO sites — and the others not part of this study — are the causes of what Skift considers as overtourism. Millions of tourists each year visit Australia, Brazil and Canada, for example, for their natural UNESCO sites and while some of these sites may not currently suffer from too many tourists they contribute to the a city or region’s overall visitation.

The lack of tourism planning at many UNESCO sites potentially puts these attractions and tourism boards and local tourism officials on different footing and also impacts the lives of residents and wildlife who live in surrounding areas.

UNESCO’s Tourism Planning Problem

Since it was created more than 70 years ago, UNESCO has become more aggressive with encouraging sites to adopt tourism management plans but this wasn’t always the norm. “Despite the early focus on recreation and enjoyment of nature by people, the UNESCO World Heritage Convention of 1972 makes only a single mention of tourism, namely in Article 11.4,” the study states.

“This article refers to properties on the ‘List of World Heritage in Danger,’ whereby tourism is seen as a risk factor that threatens both natural and cultural heritage, for example as a result of overuse and physical damage.”

Sites also have to report their progress and tourism goals to UNESCO every six years and the study argues reporting should be more frequent. UNESCO designates sites as World Heritage Sites based on tourism management criteria that sites already have in place although planning often becomes less prioritized as time passes, the study found.

Only 65 natural sites (28 percent) have an extensive and up-to-date level of tourism planning. “The mere existence of tourism in planning documents does not guarantee that the level of planning is sufficient,” the study states. “The tourism management strategies were assessed with regards to their level of detail.”

Researchers considered management plans with fewer than two pages of text dedicated to tourism planning as moderate while those with less than a page are considered minimal.

The Americas UNESCO Sites Lead in Tourism Planning

North and South America sites’ combined have the most extensive tourism management plans but that could simply be a matter of geography as Europe has more cultural sites than natural sites, for example, though 20 percent of European sites have extensive plans.

About 28 percent of sites in South America have extensive tourism management plans and nine percent of sites in North America.

Sites in less developed countries, based on the United Nation’s Human Development Index, have high rates for measuring visitation and extensive tourism planning though they’re less likely to refer to zoning than developed countries and less likely to monitor visitation.

North American sites are particularly likely to survey visitors and their perceptions and also use indicators such as how much garbage tourists leave to monitor impact.

Where UNESCO Sites succeed and Come up Short With Tourism Planning

The charts below represent a 46-site cross-section of the 229 sites part of the study. The 46 sites represent those that have websites in English or Spanish (analysis of websites in other languages was done using Google Translate) that could be more easily analyzed and understood without possible mistranslations.

Percentages expressed below and in the charts only account for these 46 sites rather than all 229 sites part of the study.

Chart 1:  The study defines tracking visitor trends as determining visitor numbers, visitation patterns and visitor demographics over multiple years. Only 25 sites (53 percent), cover visitor trends in their tourism management plans. The study found rates of discussing visitor trends increase as the level of country development decreases.

Natural UNESCO Sites Where Tracking Visitor Trends is Part of Tourism Management Plan % Tracked
Asia 60%
Africa 70%
Europe 55%
North America 75%
Pacific 25%
South America 55%


Chart 2: More sites track visitation separately rather than track it as part of visitor trends. Some 36 sites’ tourism management strategies include tracking visitation with similar rates of inclusion across all country development levels and continents.

Natural UNESCO Sites Where Tourist Visitation is Tracked % Tracked
Asia 60%
Africa 85%
Europe 65%
North America 95%
Pacific 65%
South America 90%


Chart 3: Some 89 percent of these sites monitor the positive and negative impacts of tourism but only 21 sites (47 percent) provide specific indicators to monitor. Monitoring is done using multiple methods including entry fees and permits, gathering data on visitor days and nights (24%) and using tour company data.

Natural UNESCO Sites Where Tourism Impact is Monitored % Tracked
Asia 50%
Africa 90%
Europe 75%
North America 80%
Pacific 80%
South America 70%


Chart 4: Forty sites (87%) discuss zoning within their tourism management strategy. The approaches range from having a ‘no go’ tourist zone to having extensive zoning plans with various levels of visitor use and access. Of the six sites that do not cover zoning, all are located in Europe or the UK. The analysis also showed that zoning as a management tool is more prevalent in countries in which tourism contributes a higher percentage of GDP.

Natural UNESCO Sites Where Tourism Planning Includes Specific Tourist Zones % Tracked
Asia 100%
Africa 100%
Europe 30%
North America 100%
Pacific 100%
South America 100%


Source: Griffith University

Ryan Wolkov

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Author: Ryan Wolkov

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How Extended Stay Hotels Are Pivoting Towards a New Generation of Travelers

Marriott International

A rendering of one of the communal rooms being piloted at Marriott’s Element extended stay hotel brand. Marriott and other extended stay hotel operators are trying to add more communal, co-living-like features to their properties. Marriott International

Skift Take: The extended stay portion of the lodging business continues to see strong demand. But are extended stay brands doing enough to keep up with travelers’ evolving tastes and needs? And what about Airbnb?

— Deanna Ting

Extended stay hotels are a particularly bright spot in an otherwise steady hotel industry, especially in the U.S.

These properties, often distinguished by having a kitchenette in each room and taking reservations, instead of requiring a lease, saw room night demand go up 5.4 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, according to a U.S. Extended Stay Lodging Market 2017 report from The Highland Group.

That same report found occupancy for extended stay hotels remains steady at just over 75 percent. To date, there are about 40,000 extended stay properties in the U.S. alone and that number will continue to grow: rooms under construction for this category are up 16 percent compared to 2015, a record high.

“Demand is at a record high,” said Mark Skinner, partner at The Highland Group. “More people are staying at extended stay hotels in the U.S. today than there were as ever before but what’s also true of the overall hotel industry is that these extended stay hotels are seeing record revenues. Just to put a number it’s probably $11 billion in 2016, not including corporate apartments which would be $3 billion. For 2015, room revenue for extended stay hotels was close to $10 billion.”

The ways in which customers are using extended stay hotels are also expanding. What was traditionally thought of as something specifically geared toward business travelers working on long projects or perhaps relocating has now become a lodging option for people staying four days or less.

“Extended stay is defined by five days by the industry, and I have looked hard to find a week with only five days in it,” said Jack DeBoer, the founder of Residence Inn, Summerfield Suites, and Candlewood Suites, and now CEO of WaterWalk Hotel Apartments. “I think they’ve [the industry] has abominated it [the extended stay category of lodging] from what it was originally intended to be.”

Mark Mahoney, executive vice president of sales for Extended Stay America, said he’s also seen the length of stay for extended stay hotel guests become shorter and shorter as well. “The overall volume in the number of stays we experience from relocations and extended stay has been increasing, but the actual length of stay is decreasing. I think that evolution has been a result of visibility and accessibility of the segment.”

It’s clear there’s certainly demand among guests for these types of properties, whether for shorter or longer stays, business or leisure, and hotel owners and developers are responding accordingly. In some cases, they’re experimenting with new room models and features. In others, they’re extending their scope beyond their usual suburban locales.

But will this be enough to position this product against the increasing popularity of players like HomeAway, VRBO, and Airbnb? Whether extended stay can take share away from traditional vacation rentals or platforms like Airbnb that are flexible enough to offer both short-term and longer-term rentals remains to be seen.

Here’s a look at what a few extended stay brands are doing to position themselves for the next generation of travelers.

Marriott’s Communal Approach to Extended Stay

Earlier this year, at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit, Marriott International unveiled plans to debut a new room prototype for its newly acquired Element extended stay hotel brand. The new room layout, which will be in an unspecified number of Element properties going forward, involves four guest rooms that surround a shared communal space that includes a kitchen, dining area, and living room area. In short, it’s an updated take on dorm living, or a reinterpretation of co-living concepts that have been emerging in spaces like WeLive and others.

“We’re seeing the trend of much more of a sense of community that people are looking for when they travel,” said Toni Stoeckl, VP of lifestyle brands for Marriott International. “They like being with like-minded people and traveling with them or alongside them. The sense of community is much more alive now than it ever has been in the travel arena, and it’s particularly elevated in extended stay because you are spending a lot more time in that hotel than you would in other hotels.”

Stoeckl said the idea for the new communal room layout is ideal for groups traveling together, such a group of girlfriends or a group of consultants. “You want a private room, but you also want space that the group can share together,” he explained.

Catering to group travel is something alternative accommodations players like Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO have been doing for some years, but leveraging group-friendly spaces like the communal rooms can give extended stay properties a bit more of a competitive edge.

“That concept has been around for a long time,” said Skinner, “but by and large it’s been absent from extended stay hotels. Clearly there’s a demand for it and there would be certain types of travelers who would like that in an extended stay environment. I’m thinking, especially, of youth sports or teams that need multiple occupancy per room and want to have a kitchen with the ability to store fairly significant quantities of food and drinks. It’s also great for families and other types of groups.”

The new room layout also gives hotel owners some flexibility in how they use or sell those rooms, as well. “If it’s not being sold as a bundle, you can book the individual room and have access to this semi-private space to get to know new people,” Stoeckl said. “And if you don’t, you just don’t use it. It’s creating a sense of community and lets individual travelers also be alone together.”

DeBoer, however, is very skeptical that these types of room formats “will have any impact on the industry at all.”

“I’m not holding my breath that Airbnb or dorm-like connections will have any impact on the industry at all,” he said. “They are great for writing articles. I think they are cute ideas. They don’t have anything to do with the basic business. You have to deliver cleanliness and property price and then monkey around with owner ego trips.”

WaterWalk Apartments’ Straightforward Approach to Co-Living

As much as DeBoer himself bemoans newfangled approaches to extended stay like Marriott’s new communal rooms at Element, he hasn’t stopped trying to reinvent or adapt the space himself, however. His WaterWalk Hotel Apartments in Wichita, Kansas, for example, serve as a particularly interesting example of a mixed-use extended stay property that’s more in line with co-living than DeBoer would probably ever admit, albeit minus the Millennial-friendly coworking spaces or artisanal coffee service.

WaterWalk first opened in 2014 and it consists of an equal number of apartment units and an equal number of extended stay hotel units, all in the same complex.

DeBoer is probably the last person to choose to describe WaterWalk as a “co-living” concept but in many ways it serves as a model for some of the newer co-living spaces we’ve seen pop up as of late: places where both transient residents and more permanent residents co-exist together and enjoy shared programming and amenities. Whether you’re an apartment resident or an extended stay guest, and no matter how many days your length of stay, everything (meaning amenities, utilities, etc.) is “all-inclusive” and there’s certainly a sort of community feel to the whole complex.

DeBoer’s motivation for launching WaterWalk, which will eventually expand to a total of 12 locations throughout the U.S. was purely from a business perspective, however.

“It’s a very profitable business model,” he said. “The advantage is that you only have 75 apartments and 75 extended stay units. Markets will absorb smaller numbers so if you’re going to build a 400-unit apartment project, you should pay a lot of attention to the market.”

“What WaterWalk has done is come in and bridged that gap between a 3-night minimum and an extended stay hotel which will have no minimum stay,” said Skinner. “There was an unfilled gap there if you like. The average length of stay in a furnished corporate apartment is 90 days. For extended stay is three to four days now. Something in between is being met by WaterWalk and by Airbnb coming into the market, and they’ve positioned the product to be more residential than it was before.”

Unlike some of the newer WeLives, Commons, or Commonspaces and other co-living communities of the world, however, DeBoer is content to focus on cities like Wichita, Indianapolis, Tulsa, San Antonio, and Louisville instead.

“I don’t build in big cities,” he said. “That’s where Airbnb really works. I mean, New York, Los Angeles and all these big cities — Airbnb works there because there’s no alternative to it. The zoning for residential multi-family zoning has a lot of restrictions like 30-day minimums. The reason corporate lodging like WaterWalk works in smaller cities is because there’s no alternative to it. But just doing corporate housing by itself won’t guarantee you make any money. That’s why we’ve put all three together so it’s a different animal.”

He said he and his team are currently “toying” with the idea of bringing the WaterWalk extended stay concept to larger cities but that it’s still “on the back burner.”

Mahoney said that having an urban presence is becoming more and more in demand in the extended stay space as well. “We are seeing younger travelers really appreciating that and looking more for that — to being in a city center location. It comes down to things like approximate location to public transportation, things they can walk to, etc. We at Extended Stay America don’t have a lot of presence in urban markets but that urban shift is continuing to move throughout the industry.”

Airbnb’s Future Plans for This Space

And what of Airbnb? Last year, Airbnb formally introduced its Friendly Buildings Program, which incentivizes owners and developers of multi-family housing complexes to allow some of their units to be listed on Airbnb, whether they do it themselves (ostensibly selecting certain units solely for Airbnb use) or if they allow their renters to do so on a part-time basis.

It’s an interesting program that both extends and olive branch to landlords while also ensuring Airbnb has a steady business in multi-family housing complexes that well, might start to represent their own hybrids of co-living hotels in some way.

Kevin Choquette, founder of Fident Capital, a real estate development financier, said he thinks Airbnb was prompted to debut its Friendly Buildings Program because “There was so much blowback from landlords who were frustrated by fact that tenants were subleasing leasehold interests. They recognized potential for damage to the brand and the opportunity for market expansion.” He added, “Let’s see what they can do to extend the olive brand and make this a win.”

Choquette said that if Airbnb can work with developers to designate or even design units that are “Airbnb-ready” or “Airbnb-friendly” and “figure out what kind of economics, control, and transparency owners would need to open up more rooms to the Airbnb platform” this could be a sort of win-win situation for both parties involved.

Extended Stay America’s Mahoney, for one, also thinks the Friendly Buildings Program could be successful. “We actually tried to do something similar two years ago,” he added.

“I was not aware Airbnb had done this but it doesn’t surprise me,” Skinner said. “There’s been a big increase in multi-family housing construction and there are a number of markets around the country which are entering into an oversupply area. When that happens, the apartment/community owner will look for additional sources of revenue outside of their traditional renter.”

And beyond the Friendly Buildings Program, Airbnb is also dabbling in longer-term sublets which also make it a tempting alternative for people who might otherwise be shopping for an extended stay accommodation.

Extended Stay Is Already Evolving and Will Continue to Do So

Whatever does eventually happen in this space, it’s clear that many extended stay operators are paying close attention to Airbnb and the like, and they’re transforming the experiences they can offer in the process.

That much is clear at places like ROOST Apartment Hotel, which has two locations in Philadelphia, which emphasizes a strong sense of community for its guests, many of whom are relocating or staying for long work projects.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to mitigate that sense of isolation and through our facilities and our team, establish this sense of place?,’” ROOST Co-Founder Randall Cook said. “We want the residence lounge to be a place where guests can gather regularly and we want them to be able to interact with the team to feel connected to the city at large.” Additionally, ROOST has an app for guests, as well as programming related to coffee and music.

And like Element, Extended Stay America is also investing in new models that emphasize more communal living spaces for its guests.

As this sector of lodging continues to grow and, likewise, so does the popularity and demand for homesharing on platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway, we can expect to see extended stay becoming more residential and more communal, too.

Ryan Wolkov

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Author: Ryan Wolkov

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