Current Events and Blog

24Jul 2016

Terror Attacks Weigh on Europe's Travel Companies – Wall Street Journal



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French antiriot policemen on patrol in Saint-Malo, France. French lawmakers voted to extend a state of emergency after the terror attack in Nice that left 84 people dead.


Photo:

DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images

PARIS–A cascade of terrorist attacks in Europe is driving away tourists at the height of the summer rush, casting a pall over hotel chains, airline companies and luxury retailers that are already grappling with Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

Declines in airline and hotel bookings have spread into European cities and countries that hadn’t suffered recent attacks, analysts and companies say. That raises the specter that the violence–combined with a sluggish economy–could have a broader economic impact, affecting companies like Air France-KLM,
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AccorHotels SA
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and InterContinental Hotel Group
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PLC when they report earnings in the next two weeks.

“Europe is not going to be doing them any favors,” said C. Patrick Scholes, a managing director at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey Inc. “It’s all about fear.”

A confluence of negative factors is buffeting Europe’s tourism business. Travelers appear more cautious following a spate of attacks—most recently in Munich and in Nice, France. Economic growth in many European countries is weak, straining some consumers’ pocketbooks. And the British pound is down 8.6% against the euro since the Brexit vote—boosting costs for the bloc’s single largest source of international tourists after Germany.

“Europe has several, almost I guess, three strikes against it looking forward,” Scott Kirby, president of American Airlines Group Inc.,
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told analysts on Friday, adding that Europe was the only region where he expects to see sequential declines in the third quarter.

Those pressures have driven down stock prices of several Europe-focused tourism firms that report earnings in the next week. Shares in British travel agency Thomas Cook Group
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PLC, which reports fiscal third-quarter results on Thursday, have plunged 52% since the beginning of the year. Ryanair Holdings
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PLC, which reports fiscal first-quarter results on Monday, is down 23%. Shares in British Airways
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parent International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, which reports first-half results on Friday, have fallen 34%.

Early data on hotel occupancy rates following the Bastille Day attack in Nice, which killed 84 people, shows the impact stretched well beyond the French Riviera. While occupancy at Paris hotels was already depressed, and it fell precipitously in Nice, preliminary data showed occupancy in London and Amsterdam dropped 2.7% and 8.3%, respectively, compared with a year earlier, by the Sunday after the attack.

Airline bookings appear to have declined, too. German airline Deutsche Lufthansa AG
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issued a profit warning on Wednesday, stating revenue in the second half of the year would fall between 8% and 9% because economic uncertainty and “repeated terrorist attacks in Europe” had driven down bookings of long-haul flights to Europe. On Thursday, EasyJet
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PLC said terrorism threats and the May crash of an Egyptair jet were among factors that reduced demand for the summer months.

“These events, which are tragic and very, very significant, each take a small but noticeable bite out of demand,” said David Katz, a managing director at Telsey Advisory Group.

Luxury retail, which typically sees revenue from international tourists visiting Paris, is hurting as well. Hermès International
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SCA reported a sharp slowdown in first-half sales growth on Thursday, citing terrorist attacks in Europe and currency fluctuations as primary causes of the downturn.

“We do not see any improvement in tourist traffic in France,” Chief Executive Axel Dumas said Thursday. “We will not see one while we are in a state of emergency which prevents customers from coming.”

Luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE
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reports first-half earnings on Tuesday. Kering SA
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reports on Thursday.

European travel businesses had already been girding for a difficult tourist season. Despite the promise of the quadrennial European soccer championships, Europe was the only region of the world to receive fewer international bookings for the summer as of May 31, with a decline of 2.1% from last summer, according to ForwardKeys, a data provider that compiles flight-ticket information.

While those figures showed the number of international bookings for Spain and Ireland rising in the summer period, those increases were more than offset by an 11% decline in bookings to France, 23% decline to Belgium, and 31% decline to Turkey, ForwardKeys said.

Other regions of the world are benefiting from the downturn in Europe, which could soften the blow for some firms. The number of international bookings for destinations this summer in the Asia-Pacific region, which includes China and Australia, rose 7.8% from a year earlier, according to ForwardKeys.

Charlie Bateson, product and commercial director of the U.K. branch of luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent, is also seeing a “big increase” in travel to India, China, Japan and South Africa. “I think we’ll see, certainly from where we’re sitting, an increase in demand for the more unusual, the more experiential,” he said.

Write to Sam Schechner at sam.schechner@wsj.com

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24Jul 2016

Even the Government Thinks Airlines' Frequent-Flyer Programs Are Too Complex – Travel+Leisure


How many miles does it take to get an upgrade? Nobody knows. 

There’s a lot of information out there about airlines’ frequent-flyer programs: websites and apps to help you manage your miles, and experts devoted to untangling the technicalities of the different programs and their corresponding benefit (thanks, Points Guy!).

If you’re confused by your frequent-flyer programs and what it all means, you’re definitely not alone. As Quartz reported yesterday, even the U.S. government is scratching its forehead about the chaos.

In a letter to the Office of Inspector General (i.e., a watchdog) the Department of Transportation expressed concern about the “complex algorithms” used to “determine the availability of award tickets.” Basically, the DOT says there’s no clear or easy way for airlines to communicate to travelers what the heck is going on in their frequent-flyer account.

The Office of Inspector General responded by urging the DOT to more closely regulate airlines’ frequent-flyer programs. In particular, this watchdog office wants to be sure airlines’ policies aren’t intentionally misleading passengers. You could be taken for a ride, (and we don’t mean the flight itself) and you may not even know.

A recent audit of Virgin America, Delta, and American Airlines showed their frequent flyer policies were, in fact, compliant. Of course, that’s only three out of many, many airlines with complicated frequent-flyer programs.

You may have thought the fine print of your loyalty program was confusing, and chances are, it’s only gotten worse. Think: American Airlines’ recently devalued AAdvantage program. Across the globe, airlines are shifting from miles-based programs (how far you fly) to revenue-based programs (how much you spend). Basically, that First Class seat is going to go way farther in terms of points and miles that a long-haul flight in coach that you bought on sale.

Whether or not this uncovers any dishonest behavior from airlines probably won’t change how convoluted their programs are. If anything, we can hope that the rules are written in more straightforward language. But such language—and the variables that contribute to how many miles you must deplete to score an award seat—won’t likely get any simpler.

Melanie Lieberman is the Assistant Digital Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @melanietaryn.

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24Jul 2016

MARVEL INSIDER Loyalty Rewards Service Launched – Newsarama


"Marvel Download: Digital House of Ideas" panel image

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

Marvel has announced a new loyalty program that promises to rewards fans when they use Marvel’s services or buy certain products. Titled Marvel Insider, it is a digital service that helps track your purchase of Marvel products “across various Marvel channels” to earn points towards things such as digital comic books, collectibles, and what’s described as “unforgettable experiences.”

Marvel’s parent company Disney offers various loyalty programs for its movies and other products, but Marvel Insider would be the first one specific to Marvel.

Interested readers can find out more at www.Marvel.com/Insider.

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23Jul 2016

Zika travel concerns – fox6now.com


The Zika virus is on the minds of many who are traveling this summer for vacation or to visit family. Consumer Reports says there are special considerations if you decide to travel to one of the 61 countries affected by the outbreak. Those include Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, as well as Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean.
Pregnant women are most at risk for complications. They can pass on the virus to their unborn child. It can result in serious birth defects. And the mosquito-borne virus can also cause health problems in adults, although it’s not as common.

There’s still a lot that we don’t know about the Zika virus. But we do know that it can be spread through mosquito bites and sexual contact with infected partners. Four out of five people do not show symptoms when they’re infected with Zika.

In this story

If you are pregnant, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you do not travel to a country where there’s an outbreak. But if you do decide to go, pregnant or not, the first line of defense is to protect yourself from mosquito bites.ZIka4

One of the most important things you can do is buy an insect repellant in the U.S. before you travel, and bring it with you. Consumer Reports recommends Sawyer 20% Picaridin and Natrapel 8 Hour, as well as Ben’s 30% Deet Tick & Insect Wilderness Formula.

Zika5While traveling in countries with Zika, it’s important to stay indoors as much as possible. Wear long-sleeve shirts and long

pants, as well as light-colored clothing. Mosquitoes tend to be attracted to dark clothes.

Since Zika can be sexually transmitted, it is important that travelers use condoms and practice safe sex even when they return home. You can get more advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Consumer Reports

Complete Ratings and recommendations on all kinds of products, including appliances, cars & trucks, and electronic gear, are available on Consumer Reports’ website. Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org.

All Consumer Reports Material Copyright © 2016 Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization that does not accept advertising and does not have any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.

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23Jul 2016

WikiLeaks' DNC Email Trove Includes Social Security Numbers, Credit Card Info – Slate Magazine (blog)


On Friday, the publishing platform WikiLeaks posted 19,252 searchable emails, including 8,034 attachments, from inside the Democratic National Committee. WikiLeaks says that the emails are from the accounts of seven top DNC officials from the period between Janury 2015 and May 2016. They are part of WikiLeaks’ “Hillary Leaks” initiative.

The emails contain interesting and potentially important political information, but they also include data that is sensitive in a different way. As Gizmodo points out, the data trove is easily searchable for personal information like credit card numbers, birthdays, and even Social Security numbers.

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As a group that advocates for radical transparency, WikiLeaks’ releases are often at odds with personal privacy. The organization is frequently accused of doing more damage than good with its leaks, as in the 2010 diplomatic cable release and the Afghan war documents leak. In both cases, politicians and government agencies said that WikiLeaks had put people’s lives at risk, including military personnel, human rights activists, informants, and journalists.

It’s unclear whether this assertion was true and it’s difficult to assess definitively. The situation is controversial because it’s easy to say from an ideological standpoint that holding powerful entities accountable is worth exposing a few people to credit card fraud or identity theft. Of course, you might not see things that way if your social security number were available online right now.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is a staff writer and the lead blogger for Future Tense.

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23Jul 2016

Letters: Pulling mosque as voting location rewards bigots – Palm Beach Post


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23Jul 2016

Airport plans frequent flyer parking perk – Citizens Voice


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PITTSTON TWP. — Customers who regularly fly out of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport soon could find it easier getting in and out of its parking garage and outdoor lot.

Rather than stopping to pay for parking, they’ll be able to use an airport-issued electronic card in an automated system at the exit gates. The card will link electronically to the parker’s pre-established account and charge it for the amount of time parked, airport assistant director Michael W. Conner said Thursday. Parkers will be able to subscribe to the electronic system online. Though it’s meant for frequent airport parkers, anyone can sign up.

“The customer has less to do than they do now, they don’t have to wait in lines any more,” Mr. Conner said.

The bi-county airport board approved Thursday a previously negotiated eight-year extension as part of the deal that includes the automated system. SP Plus now may run the parking lot and garage through July 31, 2021. As part of the deal, SP Plus will install the automated system, estimated to cost $113,000, at its own expense.

“The airport will not incur any costs for the system while it provides just another customer perk,” Mr. Conner said.

Contact the writer:

bkrawczeniuk@timesshamrock.com

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22Jul 2016

Starbucks touts 'suggested selling' app feature for rewards members after earnings miss – GeekWire


Usage of Starbucks’ mobile order-ahead feature continued to increase last quarter as the coffee giant missed revenue expectations for its quarterly earnings.

Starbucks signThe Seattle company reported $5.24 billion in revenue for the quarter ending June 30, up 7 percent from last year, but below analyst expectations of $5.33 billion. Starbucks is also seeing sales slow in the Americas, its largest region.

Starbucks’ Mobile Order and Pay usage reached 5 percent of all U.S. transactions, up from 4 percent last quarter. On the company’s earnings call, executives talked about how new technology features can help boost sales. They were asked about opportunities with “awareness” in regard to the Mobile Order & Pay, which first launched in Portland more than a year ago and allows customers to skip the line by ordering in advance from their phone.

“There are a lot of customers that don’t know about Mobile Order & Pay and the tremendous benefits,” said Matt Ryan, global chief strategy officer. “We are very fortunate we have that in front of us. … We’re going to continue to lean in hard with Mobile Order & Pay, continuing to improve the experience, and showing people just how good it can be.”

Starbucks sees higher usage of Mobile Order & Pay at its busiest stores, which is important for the company because it not only adds convenience for customers who can skip the line, but also frees up time for baristas.

Starbucks President Kevin Johnson said it’s crucial for the coffee giant to have more customers simply give the order-ahead feature a test run. It went live across the entire U.S. this past September, covering more than 7,400 stores, and is also being tested in Canada and the U.K.

Starbucks Rewards-Benefits“It’s a very sticky feature,” he noted. “Once they try it once, the vast majority of people start using it regularly.”

The order-ahead feature ties into Starbucks’ app and Rewards loyalty program, which increased membership by 18 percent year-over-year to 12.3 million active members in the U.S.

Starbucks recently updated its app — which now lets you earn “stars” for mobile order-ahead purchases — and revamped its rewards program that gives customers “stars” based on money they spend, rather than how often they buy items. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz today called it a “once-in-a-decade” change that would be “more fair for all of our customers.”

Ryan said that the program changes, which did see some initial pushback, will help Starbucks add more personalization features to its app — in particular with “suggested selling.”

“We will be suggesting personalized offers within the context of the app that will allow people to see things that are right for them,” he said.

Ryan added that “we’ll be able to suggest items with a currency that rewards frequency and spend.”

“You will see how this builds on itself and gives us leverage to drive total customer sales,” he said.

Starbucks, which launched mobile payment technology in China and Japan this past quarter, also said today that it expects to make “another significant amount of investment” for its digital products in 2017.

Shares of Starbucks were down nearly 3 percent in after-hours trading.

sbux11

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22Jul 2016

Florida May Have a Second Non-Travel-Related Case of Zika – NBCNews.com


Florida health officials said Thursday they were investigating a second possible case of Zika spread locally, and Brazilian scientists said they feared they may have found a second species of mosquito can transmit the virus.

The two Florida cases — one in Miami-Dade county and another in Broward county — both appear to have no connections to travel to Zika-affected areas, and neither appears to have had sexual contact with a Zika-infected patient, but Florida officials are still checking both possibilities.

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21Jul 2016

Hopper's travel app helps you pick the best dates, airports to save more money on your trip – TechCrunch



Fresh off its $16 million funding round from earlier this spring, popular airfare prediction app Hopper is moving beyond simply helping travelers figure out when to fly in order to snag the best deal. With the launch of Hopper 3.0, out this morning, the app will now also make personalized recommendations regarding how to adjust your trip plans to save more money, as well as point users to other travel deals.

Although there’s certainly no shortage of travel applications on the market today, Hopper has become – at least for me, personally – one of the most useful tools for trip planning.

The service tracks airlines’ ever-changing ticket prices in order to present information in an easy-to-read format, telling you when it’s the best time to snag a ticket without overpaying. Its system’s price predictions are up to 95 percent accurate, the company claims.

In the app, you can set up watch lists for your preferred destinations, view color-coded calendars that show you the more and less expensive dates to travel, and receive notifications when it’s time to buy. Hopper makes money when users book through the app, thanks to compensation from airlines and a $5 convenience fee charged to consumers.

The company is currently monitoring over 2 billion flight prices per day and sending out 12 million notifications to users per month. Its over 6 million users (half of which are active monthly) have set up over 9 million trip watches and are adding over 2 million new trip watches per month.

With Hopper 3.0, the app will begin tapping into that data even further to customize the experience to the individual user.

Notification Feed

A new notification feed will offer updates about your currently watched trips so you can see, with a glance, the changes to the ticket prices in one location.

But the best new feature is that the app now suggests how to adjust your dates to save money. Before, Hopper was only looking at your dates and telling you when to book, while also giving you tools to get an idea about when airfares are higher. With this release, however, it’s functioning more like a travel agent by suggesting how to configure your trip to save more money.

The company knew there was demand for this sort of functionality because over half its users were watching the same destination but with different date combinations.

In addition, the app can suggest if a similar destination is on sale – giving you the option to fly into a different airport, for example, for a better deal.

Finally, the feed will also help point you to travel deals and sales from your home airport. You can tap these deals to be presented with a calendar view that shows the valid deal dates in green.

Since its launch in 2015, Hopper has been downloaded 6 million times – up from 3 million this March. And it has become the #2 flight application on iOS according to App Annie, which puts it ahead of top travel apps like Expedia, Booking.com, Kayak, Skyscanner and others.

Going forward, Hopper plans to become even more of a mobile travel agent, as it focuses its attention on pointing users to different fare types (ultra-low cost vs regular tickets, e.g.), helping users minimize layovers or other hassles, and better manage their international travel plans, among other things.

The updated version of Hopper is live now on iTunes App Store, with the Android release to follow.

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