tourism

Cities, airports butt heads over rideshare services

App-powered ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft keep butting heads with regulators in cities around the country, claiming that rules for traditional taxis are outdated and not applicable to new transportation models.

Here’s my story on the latest chapter in the battle that appeared on CNBC Road Warrior.

Glacier National Park visitors 1960

After a few weeks of negotiations with state and city authorities and the threat of a restraining order, Lyft worked out a deal to start service in New York City beginning Friday at 7 p.m.

Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island will, for now, get a limited version of the service that was originally planned, but the deal means Lyft is putting operations in Buffalo and Rochester on hold by Aug. 1 while it works out a variety of insurance and regulatory issues.

In Memphis, Tennessee, Uber and Lyft continue service despite recent cease-and-desist orders from the city.

Uber spokesman Lane Kasselman said via email that while the company was not aware of any actions taken by the city of Memphis, “any attempt to restrict consumer choice and limit economic opportunity does nothing but hurt the thousands of residents and visitors who already rely on Uber for safe, affordable and reliable transportation.”

But Lyft spokeswoman Erin Simpson said the company took the cease-and-desist letter “as an opportunity to start a conversation with local leaders about Lyft’s peer-to-peer model and how we can work together to craft new rules that prioritize safety.”

Consumer alerts and cease-and-desist orders against Uber, Lyft and other transportation network companies are in effect in more than a dozen other cities and states. But while the so-called transportation disruptors have gained regulatory approval in Seattle, Minneapolis and a handful of other jurisdictions around the country, pushback at the national level continues.

Through its “Who’s Driving You?” campaign, the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association is tracking insurance alerts regarding rideshare companies and soliciting and sharing passenger complaints and negative news stories about the services.

“We would like to see ridesharing companies following a single set of rules designed to protect the public in the taxicab space,” said Dave Sutton, spokesperson for TLPA’s ‘Who’s Driving You?’ campaign.

TLPA also recently drew attention to the fact that the Airport Ground Transportation Association, a trade organization for airport ground transportation operators, airports and others, issued a warning to North American airports.

“Transportation Network Companies have moved beyond city regulations to now challenge airport ground transportation regulations as not applying to them. They intend to operate at airports and challenge airport officials to stop them,” said Ray Mundy, AGTA executive director, in the warning.

That plan already seems to be underway.

In 2013, when California became the first state to regulate ridesharing services, the Public Utilities Commission included a provision prohibiting TNCs from operating “on the property of or into any airport unless such operations are authorized by the airport involved.”

But in June 2014, law enforcement officials at five major California airports (LAX, OAK, SAN, SFO and SJC) told the commission that many ridesharing services were flouting those rules by continuing to operate at the airports without permits.

“We’ve invested a lot of work since last fall, trying to find a way to create a lawful way for TNCs to operate at airports,” said Doug Yakel, spokesman for San Francisco International Airport. But he said while SFO is in discussions with several TNC companies regarding permits, “thus far we have not completed this process for any company.”

Airports in Chicago, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and many other cities have also grappled with the TNC issue.

Now Airports Council International-North America, the trade organization for North American airports, is getting involved.

While “it is unacceptable for TNCs to simply ignore regulations and requirements with which they disagree, as has been the case at some airports … the demand for transportation network companies cannot be overlooked and must be addressed,” said Deborah McElroy, ACI-NA executive vice president.

ACI-NA has put together a task force to help airport officials establish regulations and work out reasonable solutions, although given the circumstances at individual airports, the appropriate solutions may differ greatly, said McElroy.

And while “there’s no handbook yet” for dealing with TNCs in cities and airports, “we’re just seeing the beginning of a new method of transportation that’s vastly superior to what came before,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation. “They will eventually find a way to regulate them and make them safe.”

You kill it, these hotels will cook it

If you sometimes wonder where the food served at a hotel restaurant comes from, you might want to check out one of the programs I profiled for CNBC Road Warrior where the on-site chef will cook up what guests catch, shoot or forage.

Me? I think I’m going to try the forage option.

MarlinWatkinswithTurkey_courtesyTurkeyTrotAcresLodge

Courtesy Turkey Trot Acres

Farm-to-table meals have become so popular that hotels are now getting in the game with an even closer-to-the-source experience by offering chef-prepared meals using food hooked, foraged or shot by their guests.

You might visit Turkey Trot Acres in Candor, New York, for a wedding reception, reunion, barbecue or zombie-fest, but wild turkey hunting in the spring and fall is what this upstate lodge is best known for.

Turkey Trot specializes in three-day guided hunting packages that start at $1,200 and include single-bed rooms, meals and guides. And while not everyone bags a turkey, those who do usually pose proudly with their bird before it goes into the cooler.

“Turkey Trot will clean the turkey for you, package it and tell you how to cook it. And if you want it prepared for dinner, they’ll do that too,” said Marlin Watkins, a well-known turkey call maker from southeast Ohio who’s been a regular at the lodge for the past 25 years.

“But when you harvest a wild turkey it’s such an event that most people would rather take it home to show off to their friends and family. I’ve seen a lot of turkeys go home in the back of a Cadillac,” Watkins said.

Next winter, Viceroy Snowmass, near Aspen, Colorado, will be adding a “you kill/we cook” option to its menu of hotel activities. From Nov. 8 to Jan. 18, guests will be able to hunt for pheasant, duck and goose—but not turkey—with guides from the Aspen Outfitting Company. The hotel’s executive chef, Will Nolan, will show guests how he breaks down the game and then prepares it for a meal. The cost: $2,200, not including accommodations.

“Guests are constantly looking for ways to get closer to their food, and I can’t think of a more intimate experience,” said Nolan. “The most memorable meals are those that you actually have a part in creating, so this fits the bill in a number of exciting ways.”

Michigan’s Catch & Cook program, a joint project of a half dozen public agencies and commercial associations, connects charter fishing clients and charter boat operators in the state’s Great Lakes region with about 50 restaurants, many of them linked to hotels and inns, which will cook and serve the day’s catch.

The program began in 2012 and has reeled in a net full of economic benefits.

“Distinctive experiences like Catch & Cook are likely to be told and retold,” said Jordan Burroughs, a wildlife outreach specialist at Michigan State University. Charter boat businesses benefit through positive word-of-mouth, restaurants get added business during the early afternoon—a traditionally slower and less profitable part of the day—”and communities benefit when visitors extend their stay, supporting local restaurants and presumably, other local businesses,” Burroughs said.

In Florida, the Hyatt Regency Sarasota has a “You Catch ‘Em, We’ll Cook ‘Em” offer for visiting anglers, including those who dock at the hotel’s 32-slip marina. For $40 per person, the chef at the Hyatt’s Currents Restaurant will grill, blacken, sear or pan fry a fisherman’s cleaned and filleted catch and serve it up with soup or salad, sides of fresh vegetables, other accompaniments and dessert.

A similar program, called “Hook N’ Cook,” is offered at the Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village in Cape Coral, Florida. There, chefs at two onsite dining venues will prepare a guest’s freshly-caught and cleaned fillet for a typical plate fee of $15, with other menu items included with the meal at an additional cost, said Stefanie Eakin, the Westin resort’s marketing manager.

Nita Lake Lodge_foraging

Courtesy Nita Lake Lodge

Each Wednesday morning during September and October, guests may go foraging for wild and edible plants, shoots, lichens and mushrooms with the executive chef of Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler, British Columbia.

Wednesday evenings, those same guests can dine with their fellow foragers on a five-course meal using the ingredients plucked that morning in the Whistler Valley. Tickets are $70 per person, plus tax, for the foraging foray and the dinner.

The class spends a great deal of time talking about and studying false or deadly look-a-likes. “All amateur foragers learn a key rule,” said Paul Moran, the executive chef at the lodge’s Aura Restaurant, “When trying to identify wild plants and mushrooms, even if you are 99 percent sure something is edible, if you still have 1 percent of doubt, it’s not worth eating.”

After the flight? Try a bike share in the city.

It’s great to fly to a new city for business or leisure travel, but how will you get around once you’re in town?
In more and more cities, bike-share programs – along with mass transit- are the answer.

Here’s a story I put together for CNBC Road Warrior on some of the bike-share programs rolling out around the country:

Pronto Bikes

Despite some financial and legal challenges, bike-sharing programs are rolling out in cities throughout North America.

Locals and visitors in Minneapolis, New York, Washington and about 30 other North American cities can now buy daily, weekly or annual program memberships and/or pay hourly fees to check out a bike to ride around town.

Cities such as Tampa; San Diego; Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, British Columbia, will soon be launching programs.

Seattle is the latest city to announce that it is joining the bike-share bandwagon, with a start date in September for Pronto Emerald City Cycle Share, which will kick off with 50 docking stations around town for 500 blue and green bikes.

As in other cities, grants, private sponsorships and user fees will make the bike-share program possible. But with a contribution of $2.5 million from Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, the Emerald City is the first to have its bike-share program sponsored by an airline.

“We’re excited to help residents and visitors get out and explore,” said Joe Sprague, the airline’s vice president of marketing. “Our investment in this program is an investment in our community.”

It may seem odd that a traditionally fuel-guzzling form of transportation is supporting a very green one, but Alaska Airlines has a strong sustainability program.

“Biking in a city puts smiles on people’s faces, and airlines want to be associated with people having fun while traveling,” said Andy Clarke, president of the Washington, D.C.-based League of American Bicyclists.

That fun has bubbled over to political and policy decisions in other cities.

“When Paris introduced their system a decade ago, it was striking how many mayors around the world said ‘I want that,’ ” said Clarke.

And biking through a city is no longer seen as unconventional.

“Maybe 10 years ago biking would have been a granola effort in the sense that people choosing to bike were part of the environmental movement,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the non-profit Eno Center for Transportation.

“Bike-sharing has helped change that. In places like Washington, D.C., and Chicago you see people in suits and ties riding the bikes because it’s a convenient and effective way to get to work. Not because they’re saving the Earth,” said Schank.

While setting up a bike-share program may seem as easy as putting up some racks with bikes, “it’s complicated and not cheap, easy or free. There’s a lot to it,” said Clarke.

And these programs are not without flats.

In January 2014, Montreal-based Public Bike System Company (known as Bixi), which provided bike-share equipment to programs in several countries, sought bankruptcy protection with more than $44 million in debt.  Contributing to the company’s financial downfall was a problem with the software for bike docking stations in some major cities, which caused those cities to withhold payments.

The company was sold in April.

“That raised a bunch of question and has hampered a few cities from pushing ahead,” said Clarke. “They’re asking more questions about the financial implications, but I don’t think it will have much of a lasting effect on the take-up of bike share programs.”

Portland, Ore.-based Alta Bicycle Share, which manages bike-share programs in cities including Chicago, New York, Boston, and Washington, is working with 8D Technologies to begin installing improved docking and software systems in bike-share cities that once relied on Bixi. Seattle’s Pronto program will be the first.

The cost of setting up bike-share programs is also coming down.

“When the bike-share concept came to the U.S. in 2010, it cost about $6,000 per bike to get on the street, including the kiosks, racks and installation,” said Josh Squire, CEO of Miami-based CycleHop, which is working on launching programs in Tampa, Atlanta, Phoenix, Orlando, Louisville and Ottawa.

Now with smart bikes and new technology, it’s possible to get a program going for $3,000 to $5,000 per bike, said Squire. “And more sponsors—including banks, health-care companies and, now, airlines—are stepping up to help shoulder the costs, paying $500 to $1,000 per year per bike to sponsor the programs.”

For travelers wanting to try out a bike-share program in a new city, Clarke has a few tips.

Bring a helmet. And if you think you’ll want a bike for a half or full day, consider getting one from a traditional bike rental outlet. That may end up being less expensive than bike-share programs, which often don’t charge members for rides under 30 minutes, but start a meter running after that.

“But in a city like Washington, D.C., that can still be cheaper than one cab ride,” said Clarke.

And nothing beats the experience of riding up and down the National Mall on a bike.”

Hotels court Chinese tourists with tea & special amenities

steaming-cup

For U.S. hotels hoping to attract big-spending Chinese travelers, it may start with learning to say “Nin Hao” but it’s also about knowing the lucky numbers, unlucky colors, and which carafes to order for the coffeemakers.

The staff at the New York Marriott Marquis hotel recently got a crash course in how to welcome some of Amway China’s 1,500 guests who won incentive sales trips to New York City in April.

“We replaced the carafes so these guests could make tea each morning,” said Kathleen Duffy, Marriott International’s Market Director of Public Relations/NYC. “And we brought in Terri Morrison, author of ‘Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands,’ to give a course for managers to learn all the cultural things we need to be aware of.”

From the days when its only Chinese visitors were high government officials, the Marquis had already assigned names (Royal, Pinnacle, etc.) to presidential suites on the 44th and 45th floors, because the number 4 is considered unlucky in Chinese culture.

But now that many more Chinese citizens are heading to the United States on business and leisure trips, Marriott International hotels, as well as Starwood, Hilton and many other lodging brands, are working harder to boost brand recognition and make the hotel visit a more important part of the Chinese tourist’s visit.

The target market is big – and getting bigger.

In 2013, an estimated 1.8 million Chinese tourists visited the United States. For 2014, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Travel and Tourism Industries expects that number to rise by 21 percent, to more than 2.1 million, with increases of about 20 percent per year through 2018.

Los Angeles and New York City received the most Chinese tourists in 2012, according to the Department of Commerce. And in the New York region alone, Marriott has seen a 17 percent growth in 2013 over 2012 for the Chinese market, according to Robert Ambrozy, Marriott International Sales Director for the New York City region.

On an internal website for its associates, Marriott International provides tips and guidelines for properties to use to “customize, personalize and cater to the Chinese traveler.”

The suggestions are separated into categories that include pre-arrival, food and beverage, guest amenities, concierge, and things to avoid, such as writing a guest’s name in red ink – which signifies death in Chinese culture.

The number eight is considered lucky in Chinese culture, so standing out to a Chinese guest “can be as simple as what the Chicago Marriott Oak Brook did, which was to put eight chocolate coins and candy in a small mesh bag with an attached welcome note,” said Seema Jain, director of Multicultural Markets and Alliances for Marriott International.

In Chicago, tourism growth from Asian markets was up more than 30 percent in 2012; twice the national average, according to Choose Chicago.

That led the Hyatt Regency Chicago to create a “Nin Hao” welcome program which makes sure Chinese guests checking into their room find bathrobes and slippers, tea kettles with special teas and tea cups, a welcome letter, maps and information brochures in Chinese and a Chinese TV channel.

hyatt nin hao menu

 

The hotel also tries to insure a Mandarin-speaking employee is available and, in addition to having translation technology such as iPad and iPhone translation apps handy, maintains a 24-hour hotline to a Mandarin-speaking translator.

Overall, in 2012, Chinese visitors to the U.S. spent $8.8 billion, nearly $6,000 per visit, according to the U.S. Travel Association, an industry trade group.

Nightly room rates in New York City and Los Angeles can be quite pricey, but not all that money was spent at hotels.

Shopping, dining, sightseeing, visiting museums and spending time at amusement and theme parks are among the top activities participated in by Chinese visitors to the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

And while right now only about 4 percent of all outbound Chinese travelers head for the United States, “it’s a burgeoning market and, beyond hotels, there are companies and destination adapting their products and services to these new clients,” said Greg Staley, Vice Presidents of Communications at the U.S. Travel Association.

It’s a new market for many destinations around the country and a vast opportunity to grow the U.S. economy,” he said.

(My story about U.S. Hotels Courting Chinese Tourist first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

Women-only floor at Danish airport hotel ruled illegal

Bella Sky Hotel - copenhagen

A ruling by a Danish court has put an end to the women-only floor at the Bella Sky Hotel, located near the Copenhagen Airport.

The rooms will stay, but now men will be allowed to reserve a spot on the hotel’s secure-access Bella Donna floor, where rooms cost about $28 extra and include amenities such as large towels, international women’s magazines, upgraded beauty products and a minibar that the hotel website boasts is stocked “with smoothies and champagne instead of potato chips and beer.”

“We had no idea this product could be remotely illegal,” said Allan Agerholm, CEO of the company that owns Bella Sky Hotel. “It is a business product we created to differentiate our hotel from others. This is a petty case that should have never been brought. It detracts from real discrimination issues happening in our society.”

Last Friday, a court ruled that even though the hotel had two ladies-style rooms elsewhere in the hotel bookable by men, the women’s-only floor was indeed discriminatory.

The hotel has opted to keep the Bella Dona floor intact, but open it to men and women.

“If for some reason a male guest should find it interesting to stay there in the pink environment, they are welcome to do so,” said Agerholm.

When the 812-room, two-tower hotel opened in spring 2011, the 20 upgraded rooms on the secure-access “Bella Donna” floor were set aside for women only, with feminine touches and amenities ranging from large dressing mirrors to a minibar stocked with smoothies, wine and high quality chocolate.

Bella Sky Hotel - Bella Donna Room

But shortly after the hotel opened, two men complained about the women-only floor to the Danish Board of Equal Treatment, which ruled the floor was gender discriminatory and illegal. Because the board had no authority to sanction, Bella Sky kept the Bella Donna floor women-only and appealed to the Eastern High Court in Copenhagen.

While not very common, some hotels in the United States and elsewhere continue to offer women-only floors, including the Hamilton Crowne Plaza in Washington, D.C., and the Crowne Plaza in Bloomington, Minn.

“Our ladies floor, where we charge a $20 premium, is usually 85 percent occupied or sold out Monday through Thursday and is very popular with female corporate travelers,” said Charlie LaMont, general manager of the Crowne Plaza Bloomington. “Some like the amenities, but for most, it’s the security of the secure-access floor,” he said.

The 10 rooms on the 10th floor of the 127-room Ellis Hotel in downtown Atlanta are set aside for women. In addition to private-access entry, the rooms include upgraded amenities, slippers and use of curling iron and a flat iron.

The hotel charges an added fee of $20 for the rooms, “which are most popular with the female corporate traveler,” said Tom LaVaccare, director of sales and marketing. “It’s a privacy issue, not necessarily a security issue,” he said, “but we’re working on adding more amenities.”

LaVacarre said no male customer has ever complained about being excluded but “if they wanted to be on a floor just for men, we could accommodate that.”

For several years, the Georgian Court Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia, has offered 18 Orchid Rooms on a “women-preferred” floor with amenities such as curling irons, flat irons, high-powered hair driers, upgraded Aveda products, satin-padded hangers, nylons and other items at no extra charge.

The rooms were so popular that the hotel recently added a second floor of rooms with the same amenities, and men aren’t excluded from those floors, they rarely book there, General Manager Lisa Jackson said.

( My story about hotels with women-only floors first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior in a slightly different version.)