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Cancun hotel accused of stealing sand

(Hotels, Mexico) Permanent link

There were a lot of ticked-off beach-goers at the Gran Caribe Real Hotel in Cancun on Thursday.

Environmental enforcement officers and Mexican navy sailors closed the beach and treated it as a crime scene, because some of the sand was allegedly stolen by the hotel, according to the Associated Press.

"Today we made the decision to close this stretch of ill-gotten, illegally accumulated sand," Patricio Patron, Mexico's attorney general for environmental protection, told the AP. "This hotel was telling its tourists: 'Come here, I have sand ... the other hotels don't, because I stole it.' "

Patron told the AP that five people were detained in a raid for allegedly using pumps to move sand from the sea floor onto the beach in front of the Gran Caribe Real Hotel.

The hotel is also suspected of illegally building a breakwater that impeded the natural flow of sand onto other hotels' beaches, Patron said.

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Soft market doesn’t faze Hard Rock

(Hotels, Las Vegas) Permanent link

This doesn’t appear to be a great time to open more rooms at the inn, but the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas has forged ahead with the opening of its new tower.

The 490-room Paradise Tower pushes the off-Strip hotel’s inventory to 1,300 rooms, but the Hard Rock isn’t worried about filling them, according to this report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Casino marketing consultant Randy Fine thinks the Hard Rock is making a mistake, according to this Associated Press story. "They want to turn a boutique property into a mega-resort," Fine said. "This is probably not the time to be doing that."

In the same AP report, analyst Bill Lerner said, "One more room in Las Vegas right now is too much."

Of course, the Paradise Tower is nothing compared with the massive influx of room supply coming to Las Vegas. The multi-hotel CityCenter resort and its 5,000-plus hotel rooms is scheduled to open on the Strip in late 2009.

If the economy doesn’t turn around by then, it could mean more trouble for CityCenter owners Dubai World and MGM Mirage, which saw the project almost succumb to bankruptcy earlier this year.

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Harmless fun? Not these prank calls to hotels

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It’s late, and you’ve bedded down for the night in your hotel room. Then you receive a frantic phone call, telling you that there’s a gas leak in the hotel. The caller tells you to use a toilet tank to break the window of the room.

Sounds crazy, right? But according to the Orlando Sentinel and other news outlets, it’s been happening in hotels around the country. Guests, and the hotels, are victims of prank calls that warn of a phony emergency and successfully get the guests, or hotel employees, to vandalize the property.

In the Sentinel story, a family staying at a Hilton Garden Inn near the Orlando Airport smashed a window and a mirror, bashed a lamp against a wall (ostensibly to try to free a man trapped on the other side) and tossed their mattress out of the window in order to jump to safety. It was all on a caller’s orders, a man masquerading as a front desk clerk, in order to escape a gas leak that wasn’t.

The Associated Press earlier reported that a caller claiming to be a representative of a fire alarm company tricked a hotel employee in Conway, Ark., into pulling a fire alarm and breaking an overhead sprinkler and the lobby windows.

Apparently, a group called PrankNET is claiming responsibility for the pranks, which have surfaced at properties from California to Nebraska to Alabama, according to various reports. The FBI is investigating the group, the AP said.

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Big Three takes beating in car rental biz, too

(Auto rentals) Permanent link

The decline of Detroit's Big Three has been well-chronicled, and it only makes sense that the downturn applies to car rental fleets as well as retail lots.

In the past few years, imported brands have taken a ton of market share from Ford, Chrysler and General Motors in the car rental business, reported the Los Angeles Times.

According to trade publication Automotive Fleet, only 48.8% of new vehicles going into U.S. rental fleets came from General Motors, Ford or Chrysler in the first six months of 2009, compared with two-thirds a year earlier.

Just three years ago, more than eight in 10 vehicles sold to U.S. car rental companies came from Detroit's Big Three, reported the L.A. Times.

Bill Gates vs. hurricanes

(Caribbean) Permanent link

Can Microsoft’s Bill Gates control the weather? It’s a Category 5 idea if it works.

The entrepreneur of the personal computer revolution now has set his targets on a new venture -- fighting hurricanes.

Gates has teamed up with scientists and inventors on a plan to lessen the strength of hurricanes by cooling the warm ocean waters where hurricanes thrive. He wants to kill hurricanes in their path by positioning hundreds of barges in the path of hurricanes, sort of like a giant flotilla of bathtubs.

Pipes on the barges would feed the warm water on the surface down to depths where the temperatures are much cooler. Other pipes would pump the cooler water to the surface, which supposedly would weaken tropical systems as they move over the area.

The National Hurricane Center is skeptical.

“This plan would involve many thousands of pumps. It would also disrupt other water and ocean currents elsewhere,” said Dr. Frank Marks.

And who would pay for all this?

Gates apparently is banking on insurance companies to help subsidize his plan, rationalizing that the lower the risk of hurricanes, the lower the amounts that insurance companies would have to shell out after a devastating storm.

However, maybe even Bill Gates can’t fool Mother Nature.

-- Gay Nagle Myers

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Is 'dial-a-tree' in our future?

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A story in the July 20 issue of the New Yorker called "Dial-a-tree," caught our attention. The premise: A Tree Museum.

According to the article (titled "Dial-A-Tree"), here's how it works: "Beside each tree on the sidewalk is a small light-green marker with a telephone number. The Tree Museum-goer calls the number on a cell phone, punches in that particular tree's extension, and hears a recording about the tree, or the neighborhood ... or some larger concept like global warming."

The museum is less actual "museum" than it is an outdoor public work on the Grand Concourse boulevard in the Bronx in New York, put together by an artist named Katie Holten.

But still, one of Travel Jonze's colleagues got to thinking. He sent this note along by email:

"Someday, possibly as early as yesterday, some local or national tourism agency is going to do this for famous landmarks. I could see the Park Service taking bids from technology companies to do this for scenic overlooks at the Grand Canyon, for the Lincoln Memorial, for the Washington Monument. London for Big Ben; whatever.  Remember those klunky earphones you used to rent at museums and art galleries? Well, just move it up a decade or two, and here we are."

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Loose lips win trips

(Hotels, Caribbean) Permanent link

Listen up, or better yet, pucker up.

There’s some fun stuff going on in the travel industry. Face it, we all need a little romantic fluff in the midst of gloomy stats, dour forecasts and diminishing returns. Like the 24-hour kiss-a-thon sponsored by Couples Resorts in Jamaica.

The lip-lock event took place in Milwaukee during the city’s annual Bastille Days celebrations last week.

Hundreds crowded the streets to witness the challenge presented by Couples Resorts, where 52 couples attempted to lock lips for 24 hours.

Winners Jessica Handrich and Danny Ottman puckered, smooched and kissed for 24.5 hours straight, winning a seven-night stay at Couples Tower Isle in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, for their endurance.

Don’t know how they handled bathroom breaks or Chapstick needs during the marathon, but they were all smiles afterwards.

Randy Russell, chief romance officer at Couples, hopes that the fever catches on and inspires others to “romantically reconnect, even if it isn’t at our resorts.”

Amen to that.

-- Gay Nagle Myers

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An airline that caters to 'pawsengers'

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Pet Airways, which launched this week, is an airline that transports pets in the main cabin. And they don't have to stow away under the seat, either: The airline bills itself as the first airline with "four-leg room."

The airline has four turbo-prop planes that have been fitted with rows of cages for its passengers. The flights can carry about 50 animals. The only humans allowed are the special pet attendants who keep an eye on the animals -- it calls them 'pawsengers' in its promotional video -- and get them on and off the planes and to their potty breaks safely.

Pet Airways' first flight took off Tuesday from Farmington, N.Y. Initially it will fly between five major cities, using mostly regional airports in the New York, Washington, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles areas. The flights range from $149 to $299 each way, which is comparable to what major airlines charge for flying pets in the cargo hold.

At each of the airports the airline has a special pet lounge for layovers and where owners can board their pets if they can’t meet the plane on arrival.

The airline says its flights are sold out for the first two months. And its website got so much traffic Tuesday the company was directing inquires to its Facebook and Twitter sites, where one very important question remained unanswered:

"In the pet lounge, are they allow to sit on the furniture?"

-- Jeri Clausing

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United breaks guitars

(Airlines) Permanent link

Travel Jonze was laughing out loud at this clever YouTube video from the folk-country band Sons of Maxwell, which details the band's experience with United after one of their checked guitars was broken -- apparently when baggage crews were flinging it around on the tarmac.

According to a link from the video, band frontman Dave Carroll said United would "do nothing" to compensate him after his $3,500 guitar was damaged on a flight to Nebraska. He said he watched from a window as baggage handlers threw the guitar cases around during a layover in O'Hare.

The catchy chorus on the video ends with: "I should have flown with someone else/or gone by car/'cause United breaks guitars."

The video has received 2.6 million hits.

In another example of the power of viral video, in a followup video Carroll said that United "generously, but late" offered him compensation for the broken guitar. He suggested that the airline send the money instead to a charity of their choice. He also said that a Part 2 video was in production.


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