Free Report: Defining Conventions as Urban Innovation and Economic Accelerators

Skift Take: The meetings and conventions industry is evolving into a global innovation distribution channel. The challenge is mapping and measuring those long-term impacts.

— Jeremy Vargas

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The meetings and conventions industry is evolving into a global innovation distribution channel. Over the last decade, convention bureaus have been collaborating more strategically with their local and state governments, economic development agencies, academic and scientific institutions, and local business improvement districts to better leverage the value of conventions in their cities, especially those aligned with their regions’ high-priority growth sectors.

The collective goal among those private and public organizations is to attract more conventions in advanced and creative industries to help position their cities as economic and innovation accelerators, in an effort to attract outside corporate investment and talent more effectively in those industries.

The challenge is mapping and measuring those long-term impacts. Presently, most cities highlight the economic benefits of conventions based on the short-term hospitality and tourism spend during conventions, which are then extrapolated to show the overall impact on jobs and taxes in the region on an annual basis. However, in addition to that, there are many important long-term economic benefits, or “legacy impacts,” that conventions deliver to a city that are typically not included in traditional impact reports.

In this report you’ll learn: 

  • The rise of the Convergence Economy and its impact on meeting strategy
  • How convention bureaus are driving economic development
  • Evaluating the long-term impacts of conventions beyond the visitor spend

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This report was created collaboratively with our sponsor, Meetings Mean Business.

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Emirates President Insists Laptop Ban Will Not Crater Its U.S. Strategy

Kamran Jebreili  / Associated Press

Emirates president Tim Clark listens to a question during an interview about cutting flights with the Associated Press at his company’s headquarters, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on April 20, 2017.
Kamran Jebreili / Associated Press

Skift Take: Tim Clark, president of the Dubai government-owned airline, says the cuts to the number of flights to the U.S. is temporary. He’s wearing a brave face, as U.S. airlines will lobby hard to further hobble the company’s growth.

— Sean O’Neill

Emirates remains committed to the U.S. market despite plans to slash 20 percent of its flights in the wake of tougher security and visa measures put in place under the Trump administration, the airline’s president said Thursday.

In his first interview since announcing the cutbacks, Tim Clark told The Associated Press that the Mideast’s biggest carrier has no intention of pulling out of the 12 cities it currently flies to.

He said the decision to cut flights to five cities was a temporary response to a clear drop in demand, and does not signal a desire by Emirates to halt its expansion in the world’s largest aviation market.

“This is not a permanent arrangement. … I do not see this as a paradigm shift,” he said. “Obviously our plans remain in place and we are as bullish and as confident about the U.S. markets as we have been.”

Emirates said Wednesday it was cutting 25 of the 126 weekly flights it operates into the U.S. from its Dubai hub starting next month. It blamed the move on stiffer U.S. security measures and attempts to ban travelers from some Muslim-majority nations since President Donald Trump took office.

Clark declined to detail how much of a financial hit the Dubai government-backed carrier has taken over the past three months, but he described the falloff in passenger demand as “significant.”

“It is not something that Emirates does lightly when it starts pulling capacity out of markets that it’s spent millions of dollars developing and operating,” he said. “So when it gets to this, suffice to say they are falls which cause us to make those kinds of changes.”

Emirates does not provide financial details solely for its U.S. operations. The Americas region, which also includes routes to Canada and Latin America, generated $3.3 billion in revenue, or 14 percent of total sales, in the fiscal year ending March 2016, according to Emirates’ last annual report.

The cutbacks will mean twice daily Emirates flights to Boston, Los Angeles, and Seattle will fall to once a day. Daily flights to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando will be trimmed to five per week.

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

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

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Bullet Train From L.A. to San Francisco Gets State Funding Despite Trump Opposition

California High-Speed Rail Authority

Supporters of the bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles are shown in Anaheim, California on February 6, 2017. California High-Speed Rail Authority

Skift Take: So much for a big federal infrastructure initiative. The Trump administration has blocked funding for California’s bullet train so the state is selling bonds to fund the high-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles on its own.

— Dennis Schaal

California isn’t letting litigation or Donald Trump stand in the way of one of the most expensive and controversial projects in the U.S.

The state on Thursday plans to sell $1.25 billion in taxable bonds to finance a $64 billion high-speed rail system, the first debt issue for construction since voters approved it nearly a decade ago. The offering marks a show of faith from officials that the project will proceed despite a lawsuit from a county and farmer opposed to it and roadblocks from the Trump administration, which has delayed a grant that would have benefited the bullet train running from San Francisco to the Los Angeles area.

The general-obligation debt, backed by California’s full faith and credit, isn’t dependent on the success of the project, the first publicly financed U.S. high-speed rail line. Lack of federal support would push more of the burden on California to finance the project, which Democratic Governor Jerry Brown says will transform the traffic-choked state by increasing access to affordable housing and boosting local economies.

“California can well afford it, and it will make our state a much better place,” he said in February in a recorded news conference to which his press office referred in response to questions. “I know we’re going up against a very red tide here of opposition. This thing is a long-term project, and one way or another we’re going to get it.”

It’s a good time for California to borrow, with its bond ratings their highest since the turn of the century since it turned a spate of deficits into surpluses. The state’s 10-year tax-exempt securities yield about 2.3 percent, or 0.24 percentage point more than benchmark debt, less than half the premium it paid three years ago, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Boosting the bond sale is the “state brand’s surging value,” said research firm Municipal Market Analytics.

After years of delay, due partly to legal challenges, construction is already underway on 119 miles of track in the Central Valley. By 2029, if work goes as planned, passengers will be able to travel at speeds of more than 200 miles an hour between San Francisco and Anaheim, south of Los Angeles, according to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Voters in 2008 approved almost $10 billion of general obligations for the project, and of that, about $1 billion has been sold to finance costs such as design and environmental reviews, according to the state treasurer’s office. So far, work has cost about $3 billion, with about $2.35 billion coming from the federal government.

On April 26, opponents of the project will ask a Sacramento County Superior Court to block the state from using proceeds from the bond sale for it. A victory for the opponents could lead federal officials to demand that the state pay back money it has so far received, according to bond documents circulated to investors.

Another risk: future federal grants may not roll in. The high-speed rail authority’s most recent business plan in May 2016 said it plans to seek additional funds from Washington, without specifying the amounts.

Already, a $647 million federal grant slated for the electrification of another commuter rail line, which is also needed for the high-speed system, was been suspended by Trump’s administration after California’s House Republicans asked for it to be withheld.

One of them was U.S. Representative Jeff Denham, from the Central Valley, who said he doubts the project will get additional federal dollars until there’s a full explanation of all funding sources and costs.

“If you’re going to continue to obligate state dollars that you do not have, then you’re in jeopardy of at some point the federal government calling for those notes to be due, which could then put public safety dollars at risk, other transportation dollars at risk or education dollars at risk,” said Denham, who sits on the transportation and infrastructure committee.

Under the measure approved by voters, California’s department of finance must review the funding plan for each segment of the rail before permitting the use of bond funds. It did so in March, saying that for the $7.8 billion Central Valley portion, the risks “are more limited because the bulk of funding is nearly in hand, and much work has already been completed.”

A study previously commissioned by the U.S Treasury Department under then-President Barack Obama listed the project as among 40 with major economic significance that were at risk of not coming to fruition. Under an assumption that the costs totaled $59 billion, it pegged the net economic benefits at at least $130 billion.

“There are a lot of federal questions,” said Howard Cure, head of municipal research in New York at Evercore Wealth Management. “When you don’t have the Republican contingent from your state pushing for it, it is potentially a big problem.”


©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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Uber’s Growth Is Stalling Among U.S. Business Travelers


Uber is leading the corporate travel market, but Lyft is gaining ground in the sector over its ride-hailing rival. Skift

Skift Take: Even if its growth has slowed gradually, Uber still has a huge advantage over its rivals in corporate travel. Its global scale, as well, bodes well for Uber continuing to grow as an option for international business travelers.

— Andrew Sheivachman

Uber’s huge expansion in corporate travel in the U.S. is trailing off, according to the latest data from expense technology company Certify, perhaps signaling that Uber will face new challenges in expanding its share of the business travel ground transportation market.

Uber grew its share of corporate travel ground transportation expenses in the U.S. among Certify’s clients by just one percent in the first quarter of 2017, compared to two percent growth for rival Lyft. Uber maintains a commanding lead in business travel ground transportation, comprising 53 percent of the ground travel expenses tracked by Certify, while taxis have fallen to just 10 percent.

Lyft, while now growing at a faster rate than Uber, was only expensed by six percent of travelers.

This is the first time in Certify’s tracking that Lyft’s growth has outpaced Uber’s; Certify analyzed more than 10 million business travel receipts for the report. (Car service rides aren’t included in the data.)

“While convenience and affordability helped propel Uber to the top of the corporate traveler’s preferred vendor list, the latest… data shows how leaders in every category can just as quickly find themselves vulnerable to broader trends and growth among the competition,” said Certify CEO Bob Neveu. “It’s important to note that ride-hailing is still in its early days as an industry, one Uber essentially invented, so there’s sure to be much more change and excitement ahead.”

The report also breaks down which U.S. markets are adopting ridesharing. However, among them, New York City and Chicago are both posting the strongest numbers for taxis. Overall, ridesharing is already deeply entrenched in the habits of business travelers.

A look at pricing trends shows that the average Lyft transaction remains cheaper than both Uber and taxis.

Q1 2016 Q2 2016 Q3 2016 Q4 2016 Q1 2017
Lyft $23.53 $20.78 $21.80 $24.99 $24.36
Uber $26.41 $25.48 $22.91 $24.75 $27.62
Taxi $39.68 $39.80 $35.91 $34.62 $33.90

Check out the full quarterly report below.

Download (PDF, 144KB)

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Travel Habits of Americans: 87 Percent Haven’t Yet Messaged With a Travel Brand


The survey is part of Skift’s year-long study that looks at U.S. traveler habits from a number of angles. Skift

Skift Take: Given all the hype of about messaging, it’s eye-opening that only one out of eight American travelers say they have electronically chatted with a travel brand.

— Sean O’Neill

This week Facebook executives used their annual F8 conference to woo hotels, airlines, and other businesses into using the social network’s Messenger app as a place for them to communicate with their customers.

The company hopes its new artificial intelligence (AI) tools will make it easier for independent hotels, small chains, airlines of all sizes, and other travel suppliers to boost how customers interact with them.

Facebook says that companies of all kinds (and not just travel ones) have already doubled the number of messages sent since last year to 2 billion, thanks in part to more than 100,000 bots, which use AI to answer common questions from customers.

Messaging is not just a Facebook thing, of course. There’s also been hype around new chat-based interfaces from travel agencies like Lola, and there’s been buzz about the rollout of text-based messaging services by third-parties like Expedia and Plus hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton have been prodding guests to chat with them.

Even so, despite all of these efforts, not much messaging is yet happening between travelers and brands.

Perhaps surprisingly, Americans and travel companies have both been slow to embrace messaging on Facebook or other platforms, according to a new Skift poll using Google Consumer Surveys.

messaging 2017 travel brands skift travel habits americans 2017

Takeaway: Only about 4 percent of the population says that they have chatted with a travel brand at least a few times on a messaging app. Only about 8 percent of the respondents say that they have communicated with a travel provider once or twice using a messaging app.

Important: This survey — not served to Skift users — was administered to 2,027 members of the U.S. adult internet population in FebruaryF 2016, through Google Consumer Surveys. The methodology is explained here.

There are not vast differences in usage by age. Only 14.8 percent of 18-44 year olds have used messaging, compared to 11.1 percent of the 45-65+ demographics.

The results fly in the face of research by BCV, a social media solutions provider for hospitality brands, which says its hotel clients alone have had about 1.1 million interactions with guests on messaging platforms in the past year.

It’s not clear what explains the discrepancy. Our best guess: Maybe some travel suppliers define “interactions” to include text-based alerts about check in times, confirmations, or billing. And perhaps travelers tend to think of chats as more conversational, such as about asking to change a check-out time at a hotel via SMS.

In any case, this survey does dovetail with other market research. Other studies find that travel lags other sectors, such as retail, when it comes to messaging with customers. The U.S. as a geographic market also lags many other parts of the world when it comes to the adoption of messaging as a communications tool.

The survey is part of Skift’s 14-poll study this year that looks at U.S. traveler habits from many angles.

We’ll be releasing a survey every few weeks or so until the end of 2017. Each one, we hope, will offer new insight into how Americans are traveling — or not — this year, what their priorities are, and where they dream of going.

See our earlier question for U.S. travelers: How many vacation days did you take in 2016?

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The Travel Agents Rethinking the Brick and Mortar Retail Experience

Travel Design Lounge  / Facebook

The Travel Design Lounge in Omaha, NE incorporates food and drink into its more traditional travel agent offerings. Travel Design Lounge / Facebook

Skift Take: There are vastly fewer retail travel outlets now than two decades ago, but a few creative agents are rethinking how to buy and sell travel in the real world.

— Laura Powell

The Skift New Luxury Newsletter is our weekly newsletter focused on the business of selling luxury travel, the people and companies creating and selling experiences, emerging trends, and the changing consumer habits around the sector.

In addition to providing this weekly digest with stories that are relevant to the sector, Skift is expanding its coverage of the sector with stories like you find below.

Just when it seemed the brick and mortar travel agency was out of style, old school is making a comeback. It seems that in this day and age of information oversaturation, growing numbers of people (especially among the millennial set) are craving expert curation and advice as they make their high-end, experiential travel plans.

As the agency world experiences a renaissance of sorts, some innovative players are upping their game by reconceptualizing notions of what a travel storefront should look like. Notes David Kolner, senior vice president of global member partnerships for Virtuoso, “We have to make going to the agency an experience in and of itself by changing the physical space to meet clients where they are.”

That’s not always so easy to do, according to Keith Waldon, owner of Departure Lounge in Austin, Texas. “The agency business tends to be reactive rather than innovative,” he says. “For so many years, it had been about shrinking space to lower overhead, to the point where the industry became invisible at street level.”

But some enterprising agency operators are moving into high-traffic areas and creating environments where customers can socialize and relax. While not yet a tipping point, several agency models are hinting at what’s next.

The stereotypical travel agency is located in a strip mall and is populated by travel agents sitting behind their desks while outdated images of palm trees and beaches loom on the walls. Well, blah just doesn’t cut it anymore, as the owners of The Local Foreigner in New York can attest. Owned by four women, all millennials, the Soho agency’s snug office space features a collaborative work area and a cozy living room in which to confer with clients. No individual desks, no uncomfortable chairs.

Meanwhile, over in Germany, the Baden-Baden branch of, L’Tur, one of the country’s largest agency groups, shares retail space with Starbucks in an upscale mall. Since 2012, L’Tur customers have been able to sip their lattes while brewing up ideas for holidays with agents.

Departure Lounge in Austin, Texas ups the ante even more. In 2015, Keith Waldon opened his hybrid travel agency/coffee bar/wine bar. The downtown space, according to the agency’s website, transports customers “to the world’s top destinations via organic coffees, small-batch boutique wines, artisan chocolates and cheeses, desserts and large touchscreens that showcase the best places on earth for a future getaway.”

A few years ago, travel industry veteran Waldon felt “compelled to get travel agencies back on the street.” So, he surveyed Austinites and asked them, “Where are you sitting when you talk to people about travel?” He discovered that the answers always involved social environments.Departure Lounge doubles as an interactive social space unimpeded by desks, computers and “blocking mechanisms,” as he calls them. By opening up the space, Waldon provides customers with a comfortable place for agent interaction and has ample space to host travel-related events.

Departure Lounge is now taking off into a franchise model. The prototype franchise will open at Austin’s airport in summer, 2017 and Waldon expects other branches should be open by early 2018. While they will not have a public bar like the original location, all franchises will offer free beverage menus for clients and will be designed as upscale lounge spaces conducive to hosting events.

While Departure Lounge is going the franchising route, Travel and Transport is looking to keep things in-house as it expands its Travel Design Lounge concept. According to Jeff Cain, senior vice president of the company’s specialty divisions, “We are continuing to fine-tune the concept in the prototype location in Omaha, Nebraska (which opened at the end of 2015) before going on to target major cities.” That part of the equation likely will not take place for a year or two.

The Travel Design Lounge, although it also incorporates alcohol, coffee and food and hosts experiential travel-related events (Italian Wine Night, anyone?) differs from its Austin-based competitor in several ways. While Departure Lounge invites independent travel advisors to come into the space to consult with clients, the Travel Design Lounge has full-time agents in-house. Additionally, it relies more on alternative revenue streams. According to Cain, “while travel is definitely the biggest revenue driver, we do derive profits from our food and beverage sales and space rental.”

Of course, adding bars, lounges and the like can be expensive. As Mark McSpadden, the director of Sabre Labs notes, before anyone considers new ideas, they have to ponder whether concepts makes strategic sense. “Agencies trying to differentiate their storefronts need to consider how that translates in terms of marketing efforts and moreover, whether the changes will lead to higher conversion rates,” says McSpadden. Waldon agrees, claiming that the conversion rates for agents who meet their clients in person at The Departure Lounge is a whopping 83 percent, nearly tripling the industry rate average.

What’s next? Likely more space for in-store virtual reality. China’s Zanadu is all in on the concept. In 2016, the Chinese luxury lifestyle travel platform opened its cutting-edge Travel Experience Space in Shanghai, providing 360-degree virtual reality experiences and other high-tech travel experiences. Singapore’s Flight Centre is another leader in introducing VR to its storefronts. Thomas Cook UK is committing to virtual reality in a big way through the rollout of its new Discovery store concept, which began in earnest in 2016. Several agencies in North America are piloting VR programs with higher-end headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. And once that becomes the norm, don’t be surprised to see the introduction of virtual reality rooms, where clients can wander as they watch — then book.

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Flight Disruption Startup Freebird Snares Funding from General Catalyst and Accomplice


Freebird co-founders Sam Zimmerman (left) and Ethan Bernstein, CEO, have raised a fresh round of funding. Freebird

Skift Take: It’s nice when folks smarter than us land on the same dime. General Catalyst and Accomplice, the famed venture capital firms, join us in seeing promise in Freebird, which gives corporate travel agencies superpowers when it comes to rebooking travelers.

— Sean O’Neill

Freebird, a business-to-business startup whose predictive technology enables agents to sell smarter flight insurance and rebooking services, was namechecked by Skift last month twice in our lists of 17 travel startups to watch in 2017 and the 11 most interesting corporate travel startups.

This week the Boston-based company says it has received $5 million in fresh funding in an “inside round” by its previous investors. The investment round was co-led by General Catalyst, the venture firm that was early to spot meteoric companies such as Airbnb, Kayak, and ITA Software, and Accomplice, whose investments have included eDreams, KDS, and Secret Escapes.

The equity investment brings the startup’s total funding to $8.5 million.

Freebird helps the typical corporate traveler whose flight has been canceled to more quickly and cheaply rebook on another one.

The startup says it has signed up eight travel management companies (TMCs) as clients for its service. Altour, Options Travel, Safe Harbors Business Travel, Short’s Travel Management, Travel and Transport, and Upside Travel join Casto Travel and Flight Centre Travel Group (USA) as Freebird resellers. This group manages more than $6 billion in travel spend a year for clients.

Why is General Catalyst fond of Freebird? Managing Director Joel Cutler says:

“On an early-stage deal, it’s quality of founders that’s critical. This is really early-stage. It’s the quality of the two of them, Ethan and Sam, that made this. Ethan is a business model kind of guy and Sam is a total data wonk with a machine learning expertise.”

“So there’s a balance of engineering and business smarts they fit together. It was clear they weren’t going to compete on personality, and they have an instinct for explaining the business to customers in a clear way.”

To keep costs low, Freebird leverages math to assess the risk of a disruption and to price the risk accordingly.

The risk model helps the company understand the likelihood that a specific flight may be disrupted and, once a flight is disrupted, the cost to buy a last-minute, one-way ticket to replace it. The company ingests data from flight alerts, pricing, availability, and other disparate metrics to make its predictions.

The company then looks at a year’s worth of historical data for a corporate client of a travel management company to create a risk profile for those travelers and to assign a particular risk level for covering those travelers over their expected volume of travel — a bit like creating an insurance policy.

Freebird’s business takes on real balance sheet risk. Some readers may ask, “What is the risk model for the risk model?” In other words, if an unpronounceable Icelandic volcano erupts and closes airspace for a few days, would that event clip Freebird’s wings?

Ethan Bernstein, Freebird co-founder and chief executive, says it has factored that type of risk into its product and its pricing.

But sometimes models fail, and people make decisions like, say, not adequately funding political campaigns in states such as Michigan and Wisconsin because, say, their models say it’s not necessary. How can Freebird be so confident?

Ethan says that he and co-founder Sam Zimmerman are aware of the challenge. “In addition to what we’ve observed in the past, we have to check for “black swan” risks for unusual weather, sharp changes in oil prices, etc. But given that, so far, we’re not perfect, but in aggregate we will be able to predict the vast majority of things. The fresh investment will enable us to navigate anything that may come along as well.”

For a relatively small fee, the traveler gets rebooked on an alternate flight. Freebird integrates directly with the GDS, which allows it to go-live with TMC partners in less than a month with no development work required, the company says.

As of today, the primary way TMCs connect with Freebird requires no development work on the agency’s part. It is currently integrated with Sabre’s global distribution system and it has plans to integrate with other systems. Anytime an agent books a flight for a traveler within Sabre’s desktop platform, Freebird will monitor the flight without the agent or employer needing to act.

Freebird says it will be hiring aggressively to be able to handle the new work from TMCs and to make sure TMCs’s corporate clients adopt their product.

A skeptic may wonder, if such a tiny startup has been able to build a sophisticated model, why couldn’t large travel companies like airlines, TMCs, or global distribution systems duplicate the product and scale it up faster?

Bernstein says the company an edge on three counts: First is that travel is very complicated and Freebird has created a tool that is simpler to use than what others would likely build. Second is that Freebird has hired Ph.D.’s with specialized knowledge that gives them a lead in tackling the hard risk modeling work “with a level of sophistication that’s required to scale.” Third is that Freebird is giving complete focus on this problem, whereas likely competitors would likely have divided attention.

The company believes it has achieved “product/market” fit and that the name of the game now is execution so that it will be able to scale.

Ellen Keszler, a Freebird investor and advisor, says, “It’s rare that a product is a win-win for everyone in the travel ecosystem… and Freebird seems to be one. There is no villain, other than the inefficiency of flight disruptions.”

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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.”

Ryan Wolkov

PRC Time Shares

Author: Ryan Wolkov

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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

Ryan Wolkov

PRC Time Shares

Author: Ryan Wolkov

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