This Tiny Resort Island Doesn’t Want Uber or Lyft

Matt O'Brien  / Associated Press

Fran Migliaccio, owner of Mig’s Rig Taxi, stands on the porch near her taxi in New Shoreham, R.I., on Block Island. Migliaccio said she doesn’t want to ban Uber and Lyft from the island, but thinks that everyone should be “subject to the same level of scrutiny” as everyone else on the taxi waitlist.
Matt O’Brien / Associated Press

Skift Take: If Austin tourism can still thrive despite the loss of Uber and Lyft, perhaps Block Island’s resistance to ridesharing apps isn’t a bad thing, either.

— Deanna Ting

Twelve miles and a ferry ride from the New England shore, Block Island is one of the last major tourist destinations in the United States without Uber or Lyft — and islanders want it to stay that way.

Come summer, the sleepy island welcomes thousands of vacationers, many of whom depend on taxis to get to its bluffs, lighthouses, beaches and weathered-gray shingle homes. Now, as at least one ride-hailing company proposes to deregulate the community’s strict 88-year-old taxi code, longtime drivers are fighting to protect a way of life that helps them make ends meet in a place where the median home costs $1.2 million.

“This is our livelihood,” said taxi driver Champlin Starr, a retired oil tanker captain whose family first landed here in the 1660s. “People come to Block Island because they want an experience. They’re not going to get it with someone who doesn’t know where the landmarks are. This is our home.”

With 32 licensed taxis, each with up to four drivers, Starr said, nearly 10 percent of the island’s roughly 1,000 year-round residents spend part of the summer driving fares around. The school’s principal is a taxi proprietor. So is the retired police chief.

But some residents say they could use some competition, especially to attract younger tourists accustomed to the convenience of using apps.

“My guests are always complaining about how expensive the taxis are, how fast their drivers are driving,” said Emma Rose Tripler, a lifelong resident who manages two inns. “They’re cranky, on top of it. And some of them are pretty aggressive.”

The town of New Shoreham, which encompasses the island, has been setting its own taxi rates since 1929. Its rules include a surcharge for dirt roads and a requirement that someone vouch for a driver’s moral character. The average wait to get a taxi license is 15 years.

“I’m a retiree and a widow,” said Fran Migliaccio, owner of Mig’s Rig Taxi. “It’s my sole source of income.” Migliaccio said that she’s not proposing to ban Uber and Lyft, but that their drivers should be “subject to the same level of scrutiny” as everyone else on the taxi waitlist.

Rhode Island enacted a statewide law last year to formally legalize and regulate Uber and Lyft, but Block Island residents are now pushing for an exemption.

“What Uber and Lyft are going to do is come out for two months, skim all the cream off the top and leave,” said state Rep. Blake Filippi, a Block Island Republican who proposed the exemption, to which both San Francisco companies object.

So far, the debate is just theoretical. Uber and Lyft don’t appear to be operating there yet.

On a recent April weekday — only two taxis operate in the off-season before Memorial Day — Vin McAloon, the 77-year-old retired police chief, was unusually busy as the weather began to warm.

At the ferry station, he picked up house painters and a sales team visiting the town hospital. At the tiny airport, he picked up a resident returning from a dentist appointment on the mainland. When fares called for a ride, McAloon usually knew them by name.

Ride-hailing apps are now allowed in tourist destinations throughout the country, most recently Wyoming, where they were legalized in March, and upstate New York, where they’ll be available after July Fourth to riders in Niagara Falls and other popular spots. The exceptions are Alaska, where legislation is pending, and Austin, Texas, after a dispute last year. When they’re not available elsewhere, it’s usually because of a lack of drivers or customer demand.

The costly ferry ride across Block Island Sound has been the island’s strongest defense against an Uber onslaught.

Ferry distance hasn’t stopped other island resorts, such as Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in Massachusetts, from grudgingly accepting Uber and Lyft. But remote Block Island, once known as a pirate hideout, has always had an independent streak.

The town’s taxi drivers made an expedition to Rhode Island’s State House this month to testify in favor of the exemption, leaving a day before the hearing because of wind that could have shut down the ferry. The exemption’s sole voice of opposition was Sami Naim, a public policy manager for Lyft, who said it was “an opportunity for us to work together to help deregulate” the island’s onerous taxi regulations.

In a sign that the state is likely to side with Block Island taxi operators, lawmakers scoffed at his comments.

“They’re saying, ‘Leave us alone,’ but you’re being very persistent,” state Rep. Anastasia Williams, a Providence Democrat, told Naim. “Sometimes you have to know when to fold it and run away.”

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United CEO Oscar Munoz Will Not Automatically Become Board Chair in 2018

United Airlines

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz will not automatically become board chairman in 2018. United Airlines

Skift Take: It’s easy to blame this on the incident last week in Chicago. And perhaps the two things are related. But it’s not a big surprise Munoz will not become board chair next year. He had a heart transplant last year, and he has been reducing his role over time.

— Brian Sumers

When Oscar Munoz joined United Airlines as president and CEO in September 2015, he was promised he would serve as chairman beginning this year. After he suffered a massive heart attack less than two months later, the board pushed it back one year, to 2018.

Now, United said in a filing Friday, Munoz may never become chairman. His employment contract no longer guarantees he’ll take the position, and if he does some day get it, it’ll be the board’s decision, rather than an automatic elevation.

United said in a filing that Munoz “initiated” the move, though it did not say exactly why. United did not reply for a request for comment.

“The Board believes that separating the roles of Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board is the most appropriate structure at this time,” United said Friday in a separate filing. “Having an independent Chairman of the Board is a means to ensure that Mr. Munoz is able to more exclusively focus on his role as Chief Executive Officer. ”

Chicago incident

United and Munoz have had a rough time since April 9, when United employees at Chicago O’Hare called airport security officers to remove a passenger from a United Express flight to Louisville, Kentucky. The passenger, Dr. David Dao, refused to leave the airplane after United employees told him they needed the seat at the last minute for an airline crew members. Security officers violently removed him, and he was seriously injured during the altercation. He may sue United. 

Another passenger took video, and it went viral the next day. At first, in a statement, Munoz blamed Dao for being “disruptive” and “belligerent.” He also defended United’s employees in Chicago, arguing they had no choice but to call authorities.

It was a public relations disaster. Not until two days later — after some consumers called for boycotts of Uniteddid Munoz issue a real apology. “It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Munoz said, promising United would no longer call for security or police except for matters involving safety and security. A couple of days after that, United’s board chairman, Robert Milton, wrote a letter defending Munoz and saying Munoz would keep his job.

But by some accounts, Munoz’s third apology was too late. In her widely-respected industry newsletter called Plane Business, Holly Hegeman, a former communications consultant to American Airlines, criticized Munoz for his response.

“If there is one man in this industry who understands the importance and the power of perception, my bet, until [April 10], would have been on United CEO Oscar Munoz,” she wrote. “But a rather unfortunate thing happened. As the nightmare at United got worse and worse, Oscar was nowhere to be found.”

Already reduced role

Still, United’s filings gave no indication the decision was related to the Dao matter. And Munoz has — since his heart attack and subsequent heart transplant — reduced his duties. In August, he gave up the president title to Scott Kirby, whom he hired from American Airlines.

Munoz has also, over time, acquiesced as United has built a stronger board of directors. Munoz, a former board member, only got the top job after ex-CEO Jeff Smisek resigned amid allegations he had kept a poorly performing flight to South Carolina because the head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had a second home there. Afterward, some investors criticized the board for not closely monitoring United’s executive team.

In 2016, a group of active investors sought to change the composition of the board, and eventually the company agreed to add more members with airline and travel industry experience. In March and April of 2016, the board added five new members, including Milton, a former Air Canada CEO, James Whitehurst, an ex-Delta Air Lines COO, and Barney Harford, former CEO of Orbitz Worldwide.

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TSA Video Seeks to Reassure Transgender Travelers

Elaine Thompson  / Associated Press

The TSA published a video to educate LGBTQ travelers, but still doesn’t seem to understand non-binary gender identity. In this Jan. 4, 2010 file photo, TSA officer Robert Howard signals an airline passenger forward at a security check-point at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Wash. Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

Skift Take: Sadly, it seems the TSA is still far away from recognizing that its policy requiring travelers to assume a gender when passing through security causes distress to many members of the LGBTQ community.

— Andrew Sheivachman

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) released a video on YouTube this Thursday that walks transgender travelers through the airport screening process and potential steps they can take if they become uncomfortable or a security alarm is triggered.

If a transgender traveler, for instance, would rather not receive a full body scan using a body imaging machine or metal detector, they can request a pat-down by a TSA officer “of the same gender.” The video also claims that if a security warning is triggered by a prosthesis, the situation can be resolved without a passenger having to expose a “sensitive area.”

The TSA has come under fire recently from the transgender community for its policies, which require TSA workers to select a traveler’s gender before receiving a body scan. Critics say this practice codifies discrimination against transgender flyers.

“Transgender people are regularly harassed and humiliated by current screening procedures, which treats transgender people’s bodies as ‘alarms’ and thus subjecting them to physical and emotional mistreatment,” said Victoria Rodriguez-Roldan, Trans/Gender Non-Conforming Justice Project Director, National LGBTQ Task Force, in March. “Current policies create a situation where transgender people are dehumanized and placed in harm’s way by constantly outing them and forcing them to disclose their personal lives with TSA agents in front of everyone in order to travel by airplane.”

You can watch the video below:

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Amtrak CEO Says New York Rail Troubles Will Worsen Without More Funding

Scott Beale  / Flickr

New York’s Penn Station is one of the ugliest things the city has to offer and belies the fact that New York is a world-class city. Scott Beale / Flickr

Skift Take: Travelers to New York depend on trains — safety issues and chronic delays must be addressed before tackling the aesthetic horror that is Penn Station. Hopefully Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan will come through and finally make New York’s rail system world-class.

— Sarah Enelow

After three passenger-train mishaps in the past month underscored the fragility of New York City rail travel, Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Wick Moorman said the only solution is the $23 billion Gateway tunnel project.

“The fundamental problem is: What is plan B?” Moorman, 65, said in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. “I don’t know.”

Amtrak’s new tunnel under the Hudson River, the key component of Gateway, would be in service in 2025 at the earliest, and that’s counting on President Donald Trump to restore federal funding that in March he proposed eliminating. Service interruptions will grow more frequent for Amtrak passengers and New Jersey Transit commuters whose sole rail access to Manhattan is via a crumbling tunnel and New York City’s Pennsylvania Station, with maintenance issues of its own.

“We don’t see a catastrophic failure,” Moorman said. “We just see continued, or gradual deterioration, which at some point accelerates and you can no longer reliably maintain them. So you have a problem every week.”

The only direct train access between New Jersey and Manhattan for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit is via a pair of century-old tubes under the Hudson. Those tunnels are key for travelers on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, its busiest line. They operate at capacity and have less than 20 years of service left after hurricane-related damage in 2012.

On Wednesday, two New Jersey politicians, U.S. Senator Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie, said they will pressure Trump to commit to Gateway or risk a national economic blow in the event of catastrophic failure.

Passengers in March and April were tested by two derailments at Penn Station and the stranding of a New Jersey Transit train, with 1,200 aboard, in the aging tunnel. Amtrak has said that an ill-fitting track caused one derailment and a rotted track support caused the other. The railroads are bickering over the cause of the tunnel jam April 14.

Trump has promised to invest $1 trillion in U.S. infrastructure over 10 years, including in “transformational” projects. That plan hasn’t been detailed.

“There’s this understanding and recognition out there of how important this is,” Moorman said of the Gateway project. “I’m an optimist this will be funded somehow.”

Trump’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget outline called for slashing $2.4 billion from the Transportation Department, including future capital funding for projects such as Gateway and terminating federal support for Amtrak’s long-distance train services that “have long been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses.’’

“This would allow Amtrak to focus on better managing its state-supported and Northeast Corridor train services,’’ the document said.

Amtrak said it operates 15 long-distance trains across the nation and the routes have Amtrak’s only service in 23 of the 46 states it serves — including for residents in rural communities and connecting passengers for Northeast Corridor and state-supported services.

Moorman said that previous presidential budget proposals have called for reducing or even eliminating funding for Amtrak, only to be restored by Congress. Gutting the long-distance trains doesn’t make sense because of cuts it would require elsewhere and that Amtrak’s relationship with members of Congress “is the best probably they’ve ever had” with both parties, he said.

“There’s a reasonable chance that we’ll just continue the same funding levels we’re at today, and even if we’re not, that it’ll be a nick,” Moorman said.

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Norwegian Air to Debut London to Singapore Route With Discounted Airfares

Norwegian Air

Low-cost carrier Norwegian is to debut its first service between Britain and Asia, flying at least four times a week, from September 28. Norwegian Air

Skift Take: The budget airline’s expansion to Asia will be operated by Norwegian UK, a Gatwick-based subsidiary. Insiders hint that the low-cost carrier will use this subsidiary to open other routes in Asia, Africa, and South America.

— Sean O’Neill

Norwegian Air Shuttle will fly from London to Singapore beginning this fall, taking on British Airways and Singapore Airlines Ltd. as it expands its long-haul budget services in Asia.

Tickets on the new route will start at 179 pounds ($230) one-way, with “premium” seats priced from 699 pounds, Norwegian said in a statement Thursday. The service will commence Sept. 28 with four weekly flights from London’s Gatwick airport and will be operated with Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner aircraft seating as many as 344 passengers.

“Our transatlantic flights have shown the huge demand for affordable long-haul travel, so we are delighted to expand into new markets,” Chief Executive Officer Bjorn Kos said in the statement. “Travel should be affordable for all.”

Norwegian is betting denser seating and the lower operating costs of the 787 will allow it to steal passengers from costlier rivals and stimulate demand among price-sensitive travelers. The carrier has one of the industry’s most ambitious growth plans with more than 200 aircraft on order as it seeks to transfer the successful low-cost airline model to long-haul services. Norwegian will also fly Boeing’s latest narrow-body jet, the 737 Max, on routes across the North Atlantic starting this summer.


The new service between London and Singapore, a popular business route, puts Norwegian in head-to-head competition with IAG SA’s British Airways and Singapore Air — the only two airlines currently offering non-stop flights between the cities. BA flies the route twice a day, and Singapore Air serves it four times daily. The carriers use larger Boeing 777 and Airbus A380 aircraft.

Norwegian has so far connected London with destinations in the U.S. and the Caribbean, targeting mainly leisure travelers. Its only Asian destination so far is Bangkok, which it serves from Oslo, Stockholm, and Copenhagen. The latest Singapore flight could be part of a broader expansion as the company canvases locations for potential bases around the world, including plans for an arm in Argentina.

To serve Singapore, Norwegian will use its U.K. subsidiary, with planes and crews based at Gatwick airport. The unit can make use of traffic rights to destinations in Asia, Africa, and South America, the company said.


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U.S. Customs Confirms It Revoked Global Entry for Muslim Americans

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Corpus Christi

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer in Corpus Christi, Texas on August 9, 2014. U.S. Customs and Border Protection Corpus Christi

Skift Take: Skift reported this story two months ago that the CBP was revoking Global Entry Enrollment from some Muslim-Americans and the CBP flatly denied it. This Bloomberg story confirmed that customs officials weren’t telling the truth at the time.

— Dennis Schaal

U.S. Customs and Border Protection revoked the enrollment of people in the Global Entry program and other U.S. “trusted traveler” categories as part of the Trump administration’s travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim nations.

[Skift Editor’s Note: Mic Network broke this story and Skift dug deeper into it two months ago, and the CBP denied that any such thing was taking place.]

The ban triggered raucous protests across the country and was quickly enjoined by the courts. But some industry groups contend the damage to the U.S. travel industry continues.

American citizens certified for Global Entry often learned of the issue only when they sought to travel, according to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which says it received “dozens” of complaints and is seeking agency records about the revocations through the Freedom of Information Act.

A CBP spokeswoman, Jennifer Gabris, said the agency restored some enrollees by early February after the administration clarified that lawful permanent residents weren’t included in the ban. Last month, federal judges also blocked a revised ban. The CBP did not respond to questions about how many people had been purged and restored to the “trusted traveler” programs.

Several of the people who complained about being removed from the programs were U.S. citizens originally from countries not included in the bans: India, Lebanon, and Pakistan, said Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which is based in Washington. And some had their Global Entry status revoked before the bans were announced, he said.

Ayoub said he was “fairly certain” the government had revoked the status of members based on their names and wasn’t sure that everyone enrolled in the programs had been restored.

“The allegation that U.S. Customs and Border Protection cancelled Trusted Traveler memberships because the member had a ‘Muslim-sounding name’ is completely false,” the agency said. Ayoub’s group filed a lawsuit April 18 in federal court saying that the CBP did not respond to its request for the records.

“A lot of these individuals that contacted us are professionals …. they travel often for work and seminars,” Ayoub said. “Nothing changed in their circumstances or in their life to warrant [CBP] to go back and change their eligibility. The only thing that’s changed is the administration and the way CBP does things. What we want to know is ‘Are you focusing on Arab and Muslim-sound names?’ That’s the issue here.”

In its statement, the CBP said it has since restored all affected members of the four entry programs.

America First

The fallout for U.S. “trusted travelers” from the first travel ban is the latest area in which the president’s immigration and travel policies have had unforeseen consequences on the travel and hospitality industries.

“Our reputation around the world is not something we can take for granted,” said Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of public affairs at the U.S. Travel Association. “Our industry is caught in the crossfire as we’re seeking to solve this issue of terrorism.”

The four programs CBP operates to speed entry into the U.S. include Global Entry, for U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and citizens of seven other nations; NEXUS, for travel between the U.S. and Canada; Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI), for travel between the U.S. and Mexico’s land borders; and Free and Secure Trade (FAST), for “low-risk” commercial shipments between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico.

The CBP has several exceptions for eligibility, including criminal convictions, false statements on one’s application, and those who “cannot satisfy CBP of your low-risk status.”

In December 2015, candidate Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S.” until the government effectively grasps the security situation. “It’s common sense and we have to do it,” Trump said at a campaign appearance in South Carolina, citing “hatred” of Americans by Muslims. “We have no choice.”

Courts haven’t allowed Trump that choice thus far, but the decision Wednesday by Emirates Airlines to curb its U.S. flying is one sign the message is being heard abroad. The Dubai-based carrier is culling 25 weekly flights from five of its dozen U.S. destinations, citing weaker U.S. travel demand given “recent actions taken by the U.S. government relating to the issuance of entry visas, heightened security vetting, and restrictions on electronic devices in aircraft cabins.”

Homeland Security employees have also increased searches of travelers’ mobile phones and other electronic devices, and prohibited electronics in the cabins of aircraft flying to the U.S. from 10 airports, mainly in the Middle East. Both as a candidate and president, Trump has also focused intensely on Mexico, once calling the nation a source of “bad hombres” and proposing a massive border wall.

Trump’s rhetoric and unpopularity abroad is likely to reduce international arrivals by 4.3 million this year, according to market strategy firm Tourism Economics LLC, with more than $18 billion in visitor spending lost by 2019.

Christopher Thompson, president and CEO of Brand USA, the U.S. government’s travel-marketing unit, said the industry is currently “dealing with perception versus reality” in terms of what effect Trump is likely to have. A strong U.S. dollar will degrade travel to the U.S. more than any policies, he said.

The administration’s rhetoric and policies have created anxiety abroad and are likely to make some travelers reconsider plans to visit the U.S., said Jeff Senior, vice president of marketing at California-based reports operator KSL Resorts and global chair of the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association Intl., a hotel marketing group.

“The very first thing out of anybody’s mouth is sort of a combination of angst and curiosity about how the U.S. is behaving right now,” Senior said. “Nobody wants to travel to a place they don’t feel welcome. There’s some soul-searching taking place. There’s some wonderful destinations around the world—the U.S. isn’t the only place you can visit.”

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Court Decision Gives Airbnb a Temporary Win in Miami


This 500-square-foot cottage in a residential area of Miami was available for $85 per night. A judge ruled that the city can’t ban short-term rentals in Miami’s residential neighborhoods. Airbnb

Skift Take: A judge’s decision to block Miami’s attempt to clamp down on short-terms rentals isn’t likely the end of the story. Still, Airbnb hosts appreciate the reprieve.

— Dennis Schaal

A judge is siding with the home-sharing platform Airbnb in its legal dispute with the city of Miami by issuing a preliminary ruling against the city’s ban.

Airbnb said in a news release that a Miami-Dade judge’s temporary restraining order Wednesday prevents the city from enforcing the short-term rental ban in residential neighborhoods. The decision says that the city is pre-empted by state law.

The order also says the city can’t force people to provide names and addresses when speaking at Miami City Commission meetings on the home-sharing issue. Some Airbnb hosts felt threatened after speaking at a March 23 hearing.

At that meeting, commissioners voted to reaffirm zoning regulations prohibiting short-term rentals of single-family homes in Miami’s residential areas.

Airbnb says about 3,000 Miami homeowners use its platform.


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Hotelbeds Agrees to Buy Wholesaler GTA

Hotelbeds Group

Hotelbeds Group is buying GTA. The deal is still subject to regulatory approval. Hotelbeds Group

Skift Take: Hotelbeds appears determined to buy up the competition in order to retain its dominant position. What is unclear though is what happens to Kuoni Group once the transaction completes as GTA represents almost two-thirds of its turnover. Will it continue on as a smaller company or continue to be broken up?

— Patrick Whyte

There looks set to be further consolidation in the wholesale accommodation sector after market leader Hotelbeds Group announced a deal to buy rival GTA from Kuoni Group.

The new owners of Hotelbeds, Cinven Capital Management and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board have pursued an aggressive strategy of consolidation since purchasing the company from tour operator TUI Group for $1.3 billion.

Wholesalers like Hotelbeds source rooms and other travel products before selling them on to tour operators, airlines and travel agents.

No figure has been given and it is still subject to regulatory approval but if it is given the green light the newly enlarged Hotelbeds will have a dominant position. Earlier this year it also agreed to acquire Orlando-based Tourico Holidays.

GTA is currently part Kuoni and it is unclear what the sale means for that business.

The Swiss company is a shadow of its former self having sold off its tour operating brands and been taken private by private equity firm EQT.

According to Kuoni’s most recent financial accounts, GTA made up about 60 percent of its total turnover and accounted for about a third of its total operating profit.

When the sale is complete the company will consist of a B2B group travel business, destination management unit and visa processing division. It is possible that Kuoni could continue to be broken up by its new owner.

Interestingly, the deal does not include inbound travel company MTS Globe, which GTA only bought in December last year for $59 million. The company has been taken back by its previous shareholder for a undisclosed fee.

When the deal is completed Kuoni will hold a “significant minority position” in the combined businesses. But until then it will remain a separate entity, as will Tourico Holidays.

Joan Vilà, executive chairman of Hotelbeds Group commented: “It gives me great pleasure to announce that GTA will be joining Hotelbeds Group.

“This deal brings another great bedbank to the Hotelbeds Group family, following the announcement in February that Tourico Holidays will also be integrating with us. Both of these important deals clearly underline our steadfast commitment to accelerate the growth of our business both organically and via M&A activity.”

Ivan Walter, Chief Executive of GTA added: “We are excited by the opportunity that combining forces with Hotelbeds Group brings. Our history and proven track record speak for themselves, and by coming together with Hotelbeds Group we can bring together a wealth of experience, commitment and a clear strategic focus on the B2B sector. We believe that today’s news is a milestone for the industry, and great news for our respective suppliers and customers. ”

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JetBlue Wants to Add Flights From Fort Lauderdale and Boston to Havana

JetBlue Airways

Ground staff cheer one of JetBlue’s first flights to Cuba in August 2016. The airline wants to add more flights to Havana. JetBlue Airways

Skift Take: This is a curious move. In May, JetBlue will start flying smaller airplanes to Cuba, as demand is not as strong as expected. But now the airline wants to add more daily flights. Perhaps this is more of a long-term play.

— Brian Sumers

Three U.S. airlines have given up on Cuba since March, but JetBlue Airways still sees opportunity.

The airline on Thursday asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to let it fly seven new weekly flights to Havana — six from Fort Lauderdale and one from Boston. JetBlue already flies 13 times per week from Fort Lauderdale to Havana, but, in the initial awards, it did not win the rights for a Boston flight. Under an agreement between the United States and Cuba, U.S. airlines may fly only 20 daily flights to Havana, and when the frequencies were made available, airlines applied for far more flights than were available.

But much changed since mid-2016, when the U.S. government selected which airlines could fly what routes. In the past six months, several airlines have reported Cuba flights were less profitable than expected, and some have decided they no longer want to fly them. Spirit Airlines will pull out of Cuba on May 31, while Frontier will drop its lone flight from Miami to Havana on June 4. Small regional airline Silver Airways is also dropping all nine of its routes to the island as of Saturday.

American Airlines has also cut some of its Cuba service, though it still has a strong schedule, especially from Miami.

“Cuba continues to be a flop for all involved,” Hunter Keay, an analyst with Wolfe Research, wrote last month.

JetBlue has had its own challenges, and in February said it would fly smaller jets to Cuba. Beginning on May 2, JetBlue is subbing a 150-seat Airbus A320 for a 200-seat A321 on flights from New York, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. Also, from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara, Camaguey, and Holguin, the airline will use a 100-seat Embraer E190 rather than an A321.

It’s not clear why JetBlue would cut capacity on the Fort Lauderdale-Havana route and then ask for a third flight on most days. JetBlue did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As for Boston, this is not the first time JetBlue has sought the right to fly the route. After losing in the initial awards, the airline tried to get the government to take away a Cuba flight from Alaska Airlines and give to JetBlue.

It happened after Alaska asked to delay the start date of its Los Angeles-Havana flight from Nov. 29 to Jan. 5. JetBlue objected, saying if Alaska was not ready, the award should instead go to JetBlue, which would use it for a Boston flight. The Department of Transportation rejected the claim, and Alaska is now flying to Havana.

JetBlue wants to add the extra flights on Nov. 1.

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Video: Kayak CEO Says He Wants to Give Consumers a Choice

Skift Take: Hafner reveals his admiration for new acquisition Momondo Group, expresses his bother at Trivago’s add spend, and pooh-poohs Skyscanner’s analytics approach in a frank discussion that cut to the core of what makes metasearch different.

— Jason Clampet

Metasearch has tried to make sense of the multiple travel booking options available to consumers, but metasearch itself has become a crowded field.

At Skift Forum Europe in London earlier this month, CEOs and top executives from Momondo Group, Skyscanner, Trivago, and Kayak spoke about the competitive landscape and their respective advantages over their rivals.

Kayak CEO Steve Hafner, who was interviewed by Skift Executive Editor Dennis Schaal, played the role of the industry veteran, both because of Kayak’s early moves in the space and because of its pending acquisition of Momondo Group, which operates Cheapflights and Momondo — “Two great companies that we’ve admired for some time,” as Hafner described them.

Hafner returned repeatedly to the topic of consumer choice. “People want to price shop,” he said. “The best place to buy a hotel is on the hotel’s own website, the best place to buy an airline ticket is on the airline’s own website. But people still need to cross shop and Kayak, Skyscanner, Expedia, those are all good places to cross shop.”

Despite a similar product, Hafner argued that there are clear differences in user experience and what the sites ultimately offer. “We’re not selling flavored water,” he said. “We actually do have different search results, different technology, speed, comprehensiveness, accuracy all matters.”

Hafner also offered a glimpse into his competitive focus: “What energizes me is the self-awareness that our product still stinks. It’s better than the competition in a number of ways, but ultimately as a consumer our service is not where I want it to be.”

You can watch the full discussion below.

Note: Initial planning is in full-swing for our flagship event Skift Global Forum, which will be held September 26-27 in New York City. We wanted to make sure our most loyal Skift readers were able to purchase their tickets early and were rewarded for doing so. That’s why we’ve re-opened up our previously sold out early bird discount for an additional 35 tickets. Attendees can now save $800 per ticket on the largest creative business conference in travel.

Read more coverage of Skift Forum Europe 2017.

At this year’s inaugural Skift Forum Europe in London, travel leaders from around the world gathered for a days of inspiration, information, and conversation on the future of travel.

Visit our Skift Global Forum site for more details about 2017 events, including our New York City event September 26-27.

Ryan Wolkov

PRC Time Shares

Author: Ryan Wolkov

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