Archive for January, 2011

Dusting off a crystal globe: 11 travel trends for 2011

January 24th, 2011 by Mariah

Dusting off a crystal globe: 11 travel trends for 2011

 

By Laura Bly, USA TODAY

 

After a recessionary chorus of Homeward Bound, American vacationers are humming On the Road Again – but a fragile economic recovery, coupled with lingering security concerns and hassles, could strike a dissonant chord in 2011. Some prognostications on where and how we’ll be plotting trips in the coming year:

Civil War Sesquicentennial: Despite a shortage of federal and state funds – and what continues to be a contentious debate over the conflict’s origins – historians and travel promoters are gearing up for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865. Among next year’s key events: the April 12 anniversary of the official first shot at Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., (above) and a July 21-24 re-enactment in Manassas, Va., where the war’s initial major land battle took place.

Royal romance in London: Already primping for the Summer Olympics and 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign in 2012, the United Kingdom’s capital anticipates an influx of royal watchers for the April 29 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in Westminster Abbey. Hotels are increasing rates and starting to impose minimum stays, notes Orbitz, and “if Charles and Diana got 600,000 people who came into London for that wedding, I could see a million for this one,” guidebook author and travel expert Pauline Frommer told the Associated Press.

 

South of the border bargains: Deal-laden Las Vegas narrowly eclipses Orlando as top U.S. destination based on 2011 bookings made through the travel agency network Travel Leaders, but Mexico continues to be an international comeback kid: When Travel Leaders agents were asked where they’re recommending travelers go to get the most for their dollar, 70 percent said Mexico. Despite a barrage of headlines about escalating drug-related violence, the number of American visitors increased 13.4 percent from January to October of 2010 over the same period in 2009, a year when tourism took a major hit from the drug war and swine flu.

Iceland heats up: Thanks to a currency collapse in 2008 and the flight-grounding antics of an unpronounceable volcano last spring, the North Atlantic island had already been on many American travelers’ radar screens. Both the economic crisis and volcanic activity have simmered down, and with Delta’s new nonstop service from New York adding seats to those already provided by Icelandair and Iceland Express, Iceland officials are predicting a 20% boost in tourism in 2011. Expect “a favorable Icelandic krona exchange rate of $1 : 110 ISK, as well as cheap eats ($3 hot dog dinner), cheap activities (thermal pool dips for $3), and free natural activities (Northern Lights, which continue through February, and the growing trend of volcano tours),” says Travelzoo.

Cloudy forecast for airfare transparency: Though consumer advocates are cheering a proposed Transportation Department rule that would require U.S. and foreign airline websites to “prominently disclose” all baggage-fee increases and link to a list of optional service fees that can double the final cost of a ticket, what could be a growing trend of airlines pulling fares from online travel agencies in favor of their own sites “”will make airfare shopping harder.” notes George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com.

Another question mark for 2011: Whether Google will succeed in its proposed acquisition of ITA Software, a company that powers fare searches for Orbitz, Kayak, Bing Travel and other popular travel sites. Proponents say Google’s involvement will make searches easier and more convenient, but critics worry it could stifle competition. Earlier this month, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), head of a Senate anti-trust panel, wrote that the $700 million deal “has the potential to greatly impact the robust online air travel search and booking markets relied on by millions of consumers.”

Checking into higher hotel rates: While hotels did plenty of wheeling and dealing to put “heads in beds” this year, “the big surprise was how quickly demand returned,” particularly in such major cities as New York, Boston and Miami, says Scott Berman, hospitality and leisure leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers. As “leverage shifts back from consumers to operators” in 2011, he adds, travelers should expect average daily room rates to increase by nearly 5% – and they’ll have to be “much more flexible to get a good deal.” Another factor driving rates up, says Starwood CEO Frits van Paasschen: A decade-long slowdown in new hotel construction.

Pop-up bargains: As part of what Trendwatching.com calls “pricing pandemonium,” more upscale hotels and resorts will offer short-term, steeply discounted rooms via “flash sales,” on members-only sites like Jetsetter, Vacationist and SniqueAway and through social media channels. Driven by the popularity of Groupon and LivingSocial, the “collective buying craze will begin to re-shape demand, particularly for travel service providers who are long on inventory on selected dates and disinclined to spend scarce marketing dollars to drum up demand the old fashioned way,” predicts Peter Yesawich of the travel marketing firm Ypartnership.

Online travel gets more social…: The Facebook juggernaut (according to Time, one out of every dozen people on Earth has an account, and last month the site accounted for 1 out of 4 American page views) will play an increasing role in travel – though not necessarily as a way to sell trips, says travel analyst Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research. “I’m not saying Facebook won’t matter – how can anything with over 500 million potential customers not matter – but it’s been a hard nut to crack when it comes to actually making money” for travel companies, says Harteveldt. “Instead, I think we’ll see social travel search/social travel planning emerge as a major trend, thanks to sites that integrate with Facebook.” The most notable: TripAdvisor, which just enhanced users’ ability to see their Facebook friends’ reviews and recommendations first.

…and mobile: It may be premature to dub 2011 the “year of the tablet computer” for travelers, but even before the buzz about Apple’s plans to add a camera to its iPad, it was earning raves as an indispensable travel gadget. That said, “the real focus is still on smart phones” and the immediacy of recommendations available through location-sharing services such as Foursquare, argues Lauren Indvik, an editor at Mashable.com.

Travel agents make a comeback: Even as travelers increase their reliance on apps and status updates, the planning process has become so fragmented, confusing and time-consuming that “they want a trusted source who can provide not only guidance , but context. ” says Forrester Research’s Harteveldt. That rising frustration may fuel the growth of “inspirational” travel sites like newcomer Wanderfly – but as we noted last month, it could also provide a window of opportunity for traditional agents, whose numbers have dropped by the thousands over the last decade.

And, finally, here’s a still-nascent trend I’d love to see expand in 2011…

Digital detox vacations: I’ll be taking an “unplugged” journey later this month – no TV or in-room phone, let alone iPhone and iPad – and look forward to exploring a place without being short-circuited by technology. As travel journalist Christopher Elliott points out in National Geographic Traveler, “we can almost experience the trip before we step off the plane. Where will we stay? There’s an app for that. Recommendations for dinner? There’s an app for that, too. What to do right now? Open your browser, and all will be revealed. Whatever happened to exploring, happenstance, and serendipity? That essential, spontaneous part of the vacation is at risk of extinction.”

 

How to Use Influence to Supercharge Your Facebook Presence

January 24th, 2011 by Mariah

How to Use Influence to Supercharge Your Facebook Presence

Did you know that on Facebook you can show ads only to people who are friends of your existing fans? This technique will yield double or triple the click through rate (CTR). But more importantly, it stimulates greater engagement and more conversions.

Influence the Influencers

In the high school cafeteria, we take note and mimic what the popular kids are doing. If you influence the influencers, the imitation flows down to the followers. Nike, the athletic apparel company, in its infancy would give out free sneakers to gang leaders, knowing that fellow gang members would have to buy a pair to be able to fit in. Your brand can do the same.

If you are just starting your Facebook page, it’s critical to attract influential folks first. After all, it’s the reputation of these people that will draw in your subsequent fans. If you’re selling golf shirts, you’re best off getting fans who are professional golfers, who then attract the weekend warriors. But if your Facebook page starts out with weekend warriors, then it’s not likely to attract pro golfers. Water flows only downhill, so the saying goes.

Spread Your Influence

And it’s once you have that base that the real fun of Facebook PPC begins. The friend-of-fan connection targeting is the most effective thing we’ve seen in Facebook, available nowhere else. That fan base you’ve built up is now influence you can spread up, down, and sideways. If Mary O’Brien is a goddess in the world of PPC and becomes a fan of your page, then you can use her endorsement among anyone who knows her. You can have the ad copy say “XYZ software is simply amazing” and it will say “Mary O’Brien likes this” below the ad. Certainly, you should stay within the limits of what is still advertising, but not crossing into the realm of misleading.

Better Ads = Lower Costs

But did you know that all it took to get this endorsement was a user to click the like button? And because the CTR is so much higher, your cost per click is proportionately that much lower. Facebook operates on an effective CPM bid algorithm, just like Google AdWords. The system actually rewards you for creating ads that users engage with.

Use the Multiplier Effect

And the bigger your fan base, the stronger the “peer pressure” effect. With Rosetta Stone, a client of ours, we have only 132,000 fans. But via friend-of-fan (FOF) targeting, we can reach 34 million people with ads that have endorsements below. 34 million out of 140 million Facebook folks in the US is 24 percent. Imagine that you could hit nearly a quarter of the population with an ad that has one of their friends endorsing your product or service? What if that ad had 4 or 5 people shown endorsing it– how might that affect your CTR, not counting the fact that it’s taking up that much more real estate (perhaps another 2-3 lines)?

Consider how the world of advertising (yes, PPC advertising included) is becoming more crowded and expensive. The result is brands that yell louder and louder above the escalating din. People filter out ads. They use the recommendations of their friends to make purchase decisions. Social recommendations are increasingly the filter people use as a substitute for taking the time to research.

Dennis Yu is Vice President of Social Marketing Strategy at Webtrends. You can reach him at dennis.yu@webtrends.com or in the nearest airport. He promises to answer all your questions, but it may take a few days for you to get an answer!

Sleep like royalty at Versailles hotel

January 17th, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) — They don’t call it a queen bed for nothing. Who hasn’t dreamed of sleeping like royalty?

Now, your dreams are coming true.

A historic mansion about a hundred yards from the Château de Versailles is being renovated into a five-star, 22-room luxury hotel, Grand Hôtel de l’Orangerie. Starting in March 2012, guests can spend the night for $650 to $950, according to Château de Versailles Deputy Administrator Mikael Hautchamp.

Since its erection in the 1680s, the mansion, called the Hôtel du Grand Controle, has undergone serious wear and tear.

“The wall here, it’s completely crumbling in parts,” Hautchamp said in an interview with NPR. “Many parts of this building are in this very damaged situation. It’s very difficult for us because our mission is to save heritage.”

Renovations are estimated to cost $7 million and should take about a year, according to a news release from the Château de Versailles. The Belgian company Ivy International has been commissioned to head the restoration and operate the property for 30 years. A portion of the profits will be paid to the Château de Versailles for rent.

Dominique van Lier, president of Ivy International, was excited to take on the renovations and conversion of the mansion into a hotel, project manager Louise Grether said.

“He had a great desire to turn this building that was in a bad state into a charming hotel,” Grether said. “Of course, no other project like this exists.”

In its heyday, the mansion was home to Versailles’ treasurers. Despite the many renovations, the mansion will maintain its history and culture, Hautchamp said. Ivy International must keep some historical pieces, including the chimneys, mirrors and floors.

“All the modern comforts will be available,” Hautchamp said. This includes televisions with international channels, a game room, a bar, a restaurant that can seat 40 people and a spa with a sauna and massage room, among other things. Grether added that a big library and the main hall will be celebrated centerpieces of the hotel.

Of the 22 rooms available for guests, six will be suites, with the biggest measuring about 1,000 square feet, Grether said. Two of the suites will include private gardens.

“Decoration is going to be in the style of the Château, but obviously with all of the luxury that comes with a five-star hotel,” Grether said. “The focus is definitely on comfort and luxury.”

Grether said the hotel will have electric bicycles on hand for guests who’d like to cycle around the grounds, as well as access to the “best” guides at Versailles, who can lead guests around the gardens.

Every day after 5:30 p.m. and all day Monday, guests can schedule private visits to the Château. And even when guests aren’t at the Château, they’ll still be able to see it.

“The most wonderful thing about this hotel is the extraordinary views that the guests will have overlooking the Orangerie,” Grether said. “You can look onto the garden while you take your cup of tea. It’s so charming and original.

“There’s no other hotel like it in the world.”

Pilot holds flight for man going to see dying grandson

January 17th, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) — Time was running out, and Mark Dickinson wasn’t sure whether he’d get to see his dying 2-year-old grandson one last time. A long line at Los Angeles International Airport’s security checkpoint had kept him from getting to his gate on time.

His grandson Caden would be taken off life support in a matter of hours in Denver, Colorado, with or without his grandfather’s presence, according to CNN affiliate KABC.

“I was kind of panicking because I was running late, and I really thought I wasn’t going to make the flight,” Dickinson told KABC.

That’s when a pilot from Southwest Airlines stepped up and held the flight at the gate until Dickinson arrived. The pilot was standing by the jetway waiting for him when Dickinson arrived in socks, so rushed that he just grabbed his shoes at security and ran through the terminal.

“I told him, ‘Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that.’ And he said, ‘No problem. They can’t leave without me anyway,’ ” Dickinson told KABC.

Authorities say Dickinson’s grandson, Caden Rodgers, suffered a head injury after his mother’s boyfriend threw him across the room. The boyfriend reportedly told police he was drunk and high on marijuana at the time. The child later died and the boyfriend has been charged with first-degree murder, according to the Aurora Sentinel.

Dickinson’s wife had called Southwest and asked them to hold the plane. After the flight, Dickinson said, he wanted to thank the pilot again for his serious display of empathy but didn’t get the chance. Dickinson made it to Colorado in time to say goodbye to his grandson.

“I would just tell him that I can’t tell him how grateful I am that he did that for me,” he said.

Most airlines would punish any staff member who holds up a flight, according to consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, who broke the story of the compassionate pilot on his blog. However, a Southwest spokeswoman said the pilot’s actions were exemplary.

“You can’t hold a plane for every late customer, but I think we would all agree that these were extenuating circumstances and the pilot absolutely made the right decision,” Southwest spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said. “I don’t think you could ask for a better example of great service for our customers.”

Though the airline has identified the pilot who held the plane for Dickinson, the pilot has asked that his name not be released to the public.

“As you’re reading the story, you absolutely get tears in your eyes and just an overwhelming sense of pride that our pilot took such an action,” McInnis said. “It really makes you proud to work for Southwest.”

2010 a strong year for global tourism, U.N. agency says

January 17th, 2011 by Mariah

Madrid, Spain (CNN) — Global tourism “recovered strongly” in 2010, spurred by emerging economies in Asia, the Middle East and the Americas, for an overall increase of 6.7 percent, to 935 million international tourist arrivals, the U.N. World Tourism Organization said Monday.

All regions had increased tourist arrivals in 2010 after the 4 percent global decline in tourism in 2009, but Europe and Africa grew more slowly, the Madrid-based UNWTO said in a statement.

“The recovery in international tourism is good news, especially for those developing countries that rely on the sector for much-needed revenue and jobs,” said Taleb Rifai, UNWTO secretary-general. “The challenge now will be to consolidate this growth over the coming years amid a still uncertain global economic environment”.

Asia was the first region to recover and the strongest growing region in 2010, with a 13 percent increase. International tourist arrivals into Asia reached a new record at 204 million last year, up from 181 million in 2009. The Middle East registered a 14 percent increase, to 60 million tourist arrivals, the UNWTO said.

The Americas overall grew by 8 percent, to 151 million international tourist arrivals. Growth was strongest in South America but the improving U.S. economy also helped improve the region’s results.

Africa grew by 6 percent in 2010, to 49 million tourist arrivals, helped by such events as the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. In 2009, it was only region in the world not to have a decline in international tourism, the UNWTO said.

Europe, the world’s top destination for international tourism, with 471 million arrivals, grew just 3 percent in 2010, in part due to air traffic disruptions caused by ash from a volcanic eruption in Iceland and “the economic uncertainty affecting the euro zone,” the UNWTO said.

UNWTO forecast continued tourism sector growth this year but at a slower pace, for a 4 percent to 5 percent increase in 2011, which is slightly above the long-term average.

The slower growth predicted in 2011 is due in part to “persistent high unemployment ” in parts of the world, and recent moves by various governments to introduce or increase “taxation on travel as a means of balancing public accounts,” the UNWTO said.

The Queen, A Victorian Bed and Breakfast

January 16th, 2011 by Mariah

The Queen, A Victorian Bed and Breakfast
“A Bed & Breakfast”
176 East Linn Street
Bellefonte, PA. 16823
USA

Innkeepers:
Nancy Noll & Curtis Miller

Rates: $95-$225 USD
Rooms: 4

Phone: 814-355-7946
Fax: 814-355-7946
Enjoy an evening of Victorian pastimes. Relax by the fireplace in the foyer surrounded by a collection of Santas. Common areas for guests include a Victorian parlour with working victrola, player piano and steroptic viewer. Sit on the front porch and listen to the quiet while sipping a mint tea and watch the neighbors enjoy caring for their beautiful homes. Walk to the historic commercial district and purchase that unique gift or enjoy fine dining in a charming Victorian village.

We have the good fortune of being 15 minutes from Penn State which offers big name concerts, sporting events, and live theater all winter. For those who actually love winter, we have nine state parks within the county and offer cross country and downhill skiing, tobogganing, tubing, ice fishing, birdwatching and incredibility beautiful scenery. For the weary traveler, we offer refuge from the storm as we are only 3 miles from the intersection of I-80 and I-99.

Click here to see our lovely property!

The Beall Mansion Winter Special!

January 16th, 2011 by Mariah

The Beall Mansion Winter Special in Alton Illinois!

Eagle Watching Getaways

Each year between Christmas and the end of February Alton, Illinois is host to the largest concentration of American Bald Eagles outside of Alaska.

You owe it to yourself to come and enjoy these majestic creatures while being pampered in the turn-of-the century elegance of The BEALL MANSION. Stay two or more nights and SAVE!

Featuring:

Alton, IL Eagle Watching Tour

Your choice of three different Eagle Tours . . .

Limo Eagle Tour

You will feel like royalty on a 3 Hour Tour as you are chauffeured around in a Luxurious, Limousine. Includes Chauffeur, Color TV AM/FM/CD Player, and Privacy Divider. Gratuity included. Available Dec. 25 – Feb 28.

Limo Eagle Watching Getaway
$459 to 569 & up
SAVE! additional nights $159 to $269

Motor Coach / Trolley Eagle Tour

Tour for two in comfort aboard a warm Trolley or Motor Coach. Includes Professional Narration and use of Spotting Scopes. Select either a 6 1/2 half hour A Day In Eagle Country or 45 to 75 minute Sample of Eagle Country tour. Click hyperlinks for tour dates and info.
Motor Coach/Trolley Eagle Watching Getaway
$179 to $379 & up
SAVE! additional nights $159 to $269

Self Guided Eagle Tour

Set out on your own personal eagle watching adventure—at your own time and at your own pace. Includes a Map of the best eagle viewing spots, “Eagles” souvenir, and Deneen Pottery® BEALL MANSION collectors coffee mug to keep as a memento of your stay. Available Dec. 25 – Feb 28.
Self Guided Eagle Watching Getaway
$159 to $269 up
SAVE! additional nights $159 to $269

Award Winning Alton Lodging

Rates also include . . .

Accommodations at The BEALL MANSION An Elegant Bed and Breakfast

Complimentary glass of Champagne or Sparkling Non-Alcoholic Beverage

Turn Down Service on arrival

Bucket of Ice in your room when you arrive

Belgian Chocolates on your bed each night

His & Hers Plush Monogrammed Robes (also available for purchase)

Slippers

Pillow Menu – Self serve Continental Breakfast or optional Gourmet Breakfast in Bed (or the formal dining room)

Daily Maid Service

All rate plans include:

Concierge Service
24 Hour “All You Can Eat” Chocolate Buffet
24 Hour Hot Beverage Service
Optional complimentary Narrated Tour of the first floor
Express Check-Out

Please book early to avoid being disappointed. Call (618) 474-9100 or Toll Free 1-866-The-BEALL (1-866-843-2325).

New England Digs Out

January 13th, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) — Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino lifted a city snow emergency Thursday, one day after blizzard conditions pounded the city and created hazardous travel conditions across New England.

Hundreds of schools remained closed in Massachusetts as crews continued to clear snow and to salt icy roadways, according to state Emergency Management spokesman Peter Judge.

The state’s 250 National Guardsmen — who were mobilized as a precautionary measure on Wednesday — were relieved from duty by Thursday morning, Judge said.

The broader state of emergency in Massachusetts, however, remained in effect.

Delta Air Lines canceled more than 200 Delta and Delta Connection flights in an effort to minimize delays, the airline said in a statement. It had canceled 1,300 flights Wednesday because of the storm.

Amtrak, which had suspended rail service between New York City and points north, resumed full service by Thursday morning, according to Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole.

Officials said snow accumulation in scattered areas across Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont reached up to 30 inches, while most areas received between 8 and 16 inches of snow.

Snowfall in the heaviest areas reached rates of 2 to 3 inches per hour on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Some residents in Brattleboro, Vermont, donned cross-country skis as they traveled down snow-jammed roads, while their neighbors heaved shovelfuls of snow out of driveways and sidewalks, said town resident Caleb Clark.

By Thursday, more than 2,300 households remained without power in Massachusetts. Many of them were in Plymouth County, where a a transmission-line outage occurred, according to the National Grid utility company’s website.

The hardest-hit areas included Plymouth, Bristol, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk counties in Massachusetts, the utility company said.

“This is the second major storm we are battling in less than three weeks,” said Christopher E. Root, National Grid senior vice president of electricity operations. “We ask that our customers bear with us and be patient as our crews work in challenging weather conditions to restore service as safely and quickly as possible.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said only 30 vehicles had been towed as a result of the storm.

That number is in stark contrast to the thousands of cars, buses and ambulances left stranded last month after cleanup crews struggled to plow streets days after the storm.

Bloomberg — who faced sharp criticism over the slow emergency response — said New York was better equipped to tackle Wednesday’s storm.

More than 1,700 flights were canceled at the New York area’s three major airports, while hundreds more were grounded at Boston’s Logan International Airport, officials said.

The general manager at LaGuardia Airport, Thomas Bosco, said many airlines pre-emptively canceled flights ahead of the weather to avoid massive delays that plagued airports during last month’s holiday blizzard.

The storm swept into the Northeast after dumping unusually heavy snow across the South. Every U.S. state except Florida now has snow on the ground, including Hawaii, according to CNN meteorologist Sean Morris.

North Pole Affects Florida Airport

January 13th, 2011 by Mariah

A runway at Florida’s Tampa International Airport is scheduled to reopen Thursday with new numbers and signage to account for the gradual shift of the Earth’s magnetic North Pole.

Runway 18R/36L, which runs north-south, has been closed since January 3 for numeric redesignation of the compass headings at each end of the runway and to change taxiway signage to account for the one-degree shift.

It will reopen tomorrow as 19R/1L, indicating its alignment along compass headings, FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.

Every five years, the FAA reevaluates shifts in the poles – its magnetic variation – and makes changes to runways and flight procedures as needed, Bergen said.

The FAA also publishes new aeronautical charts for pilots every 56 days, and with the next one due on Thursday, it made sense to make the changes at Tampa International Airport effective the same day, she said.

“The Earth’s magnetic fields are constantly changing,” she said. “It’s a very dynamic system so we make these changes effective every 56 days.”

Redesignation of runway compass headings is a common practice that occurs whenever the Earth’s magentic fields change, she said. It happened last year at Palm Beach International Airport and is scheduled to happen at the Tampa-Clearwater International Airport later in 2010, she said.

Experts: Loud noise sent 5,000 Arkansas birds flying to their deaths

January 5th, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) — Experts believe a loud noise or event was behind the mass death of as many as 5,000 red-winged blackbirds and starlings in Arkansas on New Year’s Eve, when they all flew into buildings at night, veterinarian Dr. John Fischer said Wednesday.

Fischer, of the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens, Georgia, said the bang startled very large roosts in a square-mile area in Beebe, Arkansas, 40 miles northeast of Little Rock.

Agreeing with this finding later Wednesday was the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, whose preliminary test results showed that the red-winged blackbirds died from blunt-force trauma. The report supported preliminary findings from the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission released Monday.

Necropsies on the carcasses at the Wisconsin lab revealed internal hemorrhaging, according to a Arkansas Game and Fish Commission statement. Tests showed no pesticides, and results are pending for additional chemical toxins and infectious diseases, authorities said.

Unusually loud noises, reported shortly before the birds began to fall, caused the birds to flush from a roost, and New Year’s Eve fireworks in the area may have forced the birds to fly at a lower altitude than normal, causing them to hit houses, vehicles and trees, the commission’s statement said. Blackbirds have poor night vision and typically don’t fly at night.

The collisions caused internal trauma, Fischer said.

“At this stage of the game, I don’t see anything that will alarm me or precipitate alarming the public at all,” Fischer told CNN.

Karen Rowe, an ornithologist for the game and fish commission, said this week such incidents are not that unusual and often are caused by a lightning strike or high-altitude hail. A strong storm system moved through the state earlier in the day Friday.

Officials have also speculated that fireworks shot by New Year’s revelers in the area might have startled the birds.

In a separate incident 450 miles south of Beebe, some 500 red-winged blackbirds, starlings and sparrows were found dead Monday morning on streets in the southern Louisiana community of Labarre.

Fischer told CNN Wednesday that X-rays of those birds found hemorrhaging consistent with traumatic death, and the birds apparently flew into stationary objects and power lines.

Michael Seymour, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries ornithologist, said he would not relate what happened to Arkansas to what happened in Louisiana.

“On the outside, it’s obviously pretty easy to link them together and find the pattern there, but as of now, there is absolutely no linking besides some of the species involved,” he said.

Seymour said these preliminary results tend to point toward some sort of collision or traumatic event as opposed to a virus or bacterium.

“We obviously have to wait on final results,” he said. “We’re still waiting on the toxicology reports, which could take weeks.”

Seymour said there is a “pretty good chance” the bird hit power lines.

“It’s the No. 2 killer in the U.S.,” Seymour said.

More mystery bird deaths reported, this time in Louisiana

January 5th, 2011 by Mariah

NEW ORLEANS | Tue Jan 4, 2011 1:52pm EST

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – As if the deaths of 5,000 birds in Arkansas were not strange enough, Louisiana wildlife experts on Tuesday are investigating the deaths of 500 birds along a stretch of highway in Pointe Coupee Parish.

The Louisiana birds included some red-winged blackbirds, the same type discovered dead in Arkansas.

The mix of blackbirds and starlings were discovered on Monday between New Roads and Morganza, Louisiana, according to Bo Boehringer, press secretary for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. That area includes the False River Regional Airport.

Boehringer said the birds were sent to labs in Georgia and Wisconsin to find out how they died, tests which could take a week.

“Our staff veterinarian is not ready to speculate at this time,” said Boehringer, regarding the cause of death.

The Louisiana report comes days after some 5,000 birds, mostly red-winged blackbirds, fell from the sky in Beebe, Arkansas on New Year’s Eve. Tests by Arkansas veterinary officials concluded Monday they died after massive trauma.

One theory is that birds were spooked by New Year’s fireworks and flew into buildings or other objects. Another theory is that severe weather caused the deaths.

“We’re leaning more toward a stress event,” said Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman Keith Stephens, noting that severe weather had already left the area.

The Arkansas commission also is trying to determine what caused the deaths of up to 100,000 fish over a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River near a dam in Ozark, 125 miles west of Beebe. The fish were discovered December 30.

Stephens said disease may be the culprit, since almost all the fish were one species — bottom-feeding drum.

Stephens said the Arkansas events do not appear related.

2010 Year Of The Angry Traveler

January 3rd, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN)–There’s generally no shortage of aggravated travelers, but as far as years go, 2010 seems to have gone above and beyond in irritating the moving masses.

Last year on Christmas Day, a Nigerian man was accused of attempting to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear aboard a Northwest Airlines flight. That incident got the air travel year off to a rocky start with a rush put on the deployment of the now-infamousfull-body scanners, which critics call “virtual strip searches.”

Add an onslaught of bag fees hikes in January, and you have a delicious recipe for disgruntlement. In April, Spirit Airlines heaped it on with a fee for carry-ons stowed in overhead bins. Fortunately, the major carriers didn’t follow boldly in Spirit’s footsteps.

On a positive note, airline passenger protections designed to reduce long tarmac delays went into effect in April, and the new rules have dramatically cut the number of domestic tarmac strandings lasting more than three hours, without causing a noticeable increase in flight cancellations. Flights on international carriers — as we’ve seen during this week’s Snowpocalypse – are not subject to the same rules.

We all learned that air travel and ash clouds don’t mix this spring when a volcanic eruption in Iceland grounded thousands of flights across Europe, stranding travelers on both sides of the pond for days.

From fire and crashing waves to gastrointestinal illness, many cruise passengers have had a tough time of it this year with a handful of unfortunate events rendering some seafaring retreats less than relaxing.

But, let’s be honest, travelers are no picnic. In fact, during a 5,900-mile airport odyssey, one CNN reporter discovered how awful and annoying we are.

And there’s no lack of examples of travelers behaving badly: Adrunk cruise passenger managed to drop anchor on his vacation, and just this week an airline passenger smacked a fellow travelerwho wouldn’t turn off his iPhone as their flight was taxiing for takeoff.

Angry with the ill-behaved masses, flight attendant Steven Slater channeled his outrage into one of the most spectacular take-this-job-and-shove-it moments in recent memory this August. His employer, JetBlue Airways, didn’t share the public’s admiration. Slater was suspended and eventually resigned. He made a deal with prosecutors to avoid jail time.

Thanksgiving brought the usual travel rush and a new catchphrase in “don’t touch my junk,” Video prompted by the Transportation Security Administration’s implementation of “enhanced” pat downscreening procedures for some travelers.

The pat downs, conducted by TSA screeners of the same sex as the passenger, involve touching the groin and breast areas. Opponents say they’re an invasion of privacy, with some comparing the procedures to sexual molestation.

The uproar over the pat downs didn’t amount to much during the peak Thanksgiving travel period, and the Christmas holiday has been plagued with a wintry weather snarl on roads and at airports in the U.S. and Europe.

Tarmac delays reared up again this week with some travelers on international airlines stranded at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for up to 11 hours.

All this on top of the quiet (and not-so-quiet) battles waged daily on planes — from reclining seat wars to critics of crying babies.

Why do we heap all this hassle on ourselves? The magic’s in thedestination – and getting there does make for some of the best travel tales.

Fire Closes Down Ride In Orlando Theme Park

January 3rd, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) –A fire Saturday led to the evacuation and indefinite closing of a water flume ride at the Islands of Adventure park in Orlando, Florida, officials said.

The Orlando Fire Department got the call just after 5 p.m. and raced to the Universal Studios venue, Deputy Chief Greg Hoggatt said.

Dozens of patrons were at the Ripsaw Falls ride, but only a few were in the area where the smoke was noticed by an employee, Universal Studios spokesman Tom Schroder said. Staffers shut the ride down and got passengers out of the area.

A structure that houses part of the ride was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. They were able to knock it down in 30 minutes and contain it in 45 minutes, Hoggatt said.

The rest of the park was open Saturday evening, as investigators began looking into a cause, officials said.

Officials did not have a damage estimate and did not know when the ride, which is in the Toon Lagoon portion of the park, would reopen, Schroder said.

While some guests complained about smoke, no one was transported from the park for additional medical assistance, according to Schroder.

American Airlines No Longer Listed On Expedia

January 3rd, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN)–The online travel site Expedia has removed American Airlines fares and schedules, the latest move in an ongoing legal squabble between travel websites and airlines.

 

“Expedia, after more than a week of discriminating against American’s fares and schedules by omitting them from its top search displays … has removed American’s fares and schedules from Expedia.com, effective January 1, 2011,” the airline said in a statement Saturday.

 

American’s fares and schedules remain on Egencia, Expedia’s corporate travel site, the statement said. Customers looking to compare flights online can visit other travel sites such as kayak.com, priceline.com or travel agencies, it said, as well as American’s own website, aa.com.

 

The airline has seen a year-over-year increase in ticket sales since removing its schedules and airfares from the travel site Orbitz.com on December 21, and since Expedia “began discriminating against American’s flights and schedules” two days later, a practice the airline said was “deceptive to consumers looking for competitive choices for

travel.” The ticket sales have shifted to other channels, the airline said.

 

Expedia said in a statement it had been unable to reach an agreement with American “due to American Airlines’ new commercial strategy that we believe is anti-consumer and anti-choice.”

 

The airline, it said, “is attempting to introduce a new direct connect model that will result in higher costs and reduced transparency for consumers, making it difficult to compare American Airlines ticket prices and options with offerings by other airlines.”

 

As a result, Expedia has suspended the sale of American flights on its site, the statement said. “We remain open to doing business with

 

American Airlines on terms that are satisfactory to Expedia and do not compromise our ability to provide consumers with the products and services they need. … We cannot support efforts that we believe are fundamentally bad for travelers.”

 

American said it did not expect significant impact from the Expedia action. Tickets for air travel on American purchased on Expedia remain valid, the airline said.

 

“Our direct connections offers a path to a new era of buying and selling travel services,” Derek DeCross, American’s vice president and general sales manager, said in a December 29 statement. Previously, airlines have offered “different flavors” of airfares, he said. “… Our direct connection will help travel agencies help their own customers by giving them access to customized choices and delivering the best value to travelers.

 

“We do not envision a future in which we only sell to our customers through our own branded website,” DeCross said. “Our goal is to have broad distribution channels and choices for our customers, with our products and services delivered efficiently and without unnecessary costs flowing through the process.”

 

Last month, Delta Air Lines also notified three online travel sites — cheapoair.com, onetravel.com and bookit.com — that it had terminated them as authorized travel agents, according to Bloomberg News.