News: Trainline launches new voice app for Google Assistant

News: Trainline launches new voice app for Google Assistant

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Trainline launches new voice app for Google Assistant

Trainline has launched a voice app built for the Google Assistant.

The app allows rail travellers to talk to Trainline by asking everyday travel questions about their journey, with real-time updates on details that matter most, like timetables and delays.

The Trainline app for the Google Assistant is now available on eligible Android phones, on the Assistant app on iOS, and on Assistant-enabled devices like Google Home.

Trainline’s voice app combines Trainline’s leading travel technology experience with Google’s conversational platform to make accessing information on the move easier than ever before.

Trainline’s voice app can handle deep conversational complexity, including answering twelve layers of questioning.

Rail commuters who are in a rush to get to and from work can also teach Trainline’s voice app to recognise their commuting patterns from regular places such as home. 

The app also has smart built-in features: for example, real-time delays and the time required to walk to or from a station are taken into account when providing answers

Trainline’s voice app can help simplify people’s lives – especially for people in a rush to get somewhere like walking between stations through a crowd, or getting ready in the morning.

As people use the app, it will reveal more features over time.

Dave Slocombe, product director, Trainline, said: “Trainline’s mission is to use technology to make travel as smart and simple as possible.

“Trainline’s voice app is the latest in a long line of innovations that make this possible.

“We’re proud to have worked with Google and its powerful new Assistant platform on the creation of voice capabilities that can deliver complex travel information in a quick, simple and personal way.”

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November 21, 2017 at 02:09AM

No End in Sight to the Brexit Madness

No End in Sight to the Brexit Madness

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The slow-motion self-immolation that is Brexit continues for the U.K.
Speaking in Brussels on Monday, Michel Barnier, the senior European
Union official in charge of negotiating the terms of Britain’s
departure, confirmed that British banks were set to lose their so-called
E.U. passport, which currently enables them to offer services throughout
the twenty-eight nations in the bloc. “On financial services, U.K. voices
suggest that Brexit does not mean Brexit,” Barnier
said. “Brexit means
Brexit, everywhere.”

As if to reinforce the point, a meeting of E.U. ministers on Monday
confirmed that two big E.U. agencies that are currently headquartered in London,
the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency, would
be moving to Paris and Amsterdam, respectively. “The twenty-seven will
continue to deepen the work of those agencies, together,” Barnier said.
“They will share the costs for running those agencies. Our businesses
will benefit from their expertise. All of their work is firmly based on
the E.U. treaties which the U.K. decided to leave.”

In the months after the Brexit vote, which took place almost a year and
a half ago, “Leave” supporters used the fact that the U.K.’s economy
continued to expand and create jobs to claim that the prophets of doom
had been mistaken. But to those Britons who are willing to acknowledge
reality, these latest developments were the latest confirmation that the
consequences of the historic vote are now starting to be felt. “While
not surprising, these moves mark the beginning of the jobs Brexodus,”
Vince Cable, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, and a prominent
opponent of Brexit, said. “Large private-sector organizations are also
considering moving to Europe, and we can expect many to do so over the
next few years.”

To be sure, the country’s economy hasn’t collapsed. The gross domestic
product is rising, and the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.3 per cent,
its lowest level since 1975. But the rate of G.D.P. growth has fallen this year, and consumer-price inflation has risen because a fall in
the value of the pound has made imported goods more expensive. This has
hit living standards. Earlier this month, the National Institute of
Economic and Social Research, an independent think tank, estimated that Brexit has
already cost each British household about six hundred pounds, which is
roughly eight hundred dollars. “It is almost certain that the relative
deterioration in the UK economy and the accompanying fall in living
standards over the past year are a consequence of the vote by the
British people to leave the European Union,” Garry Young, a senior
economist at the institute,
wrote.

If Theresa May’s government had presented a credible path to the
prosperity that it claims will accompany Britain’s departure from the
E.U., the economic slowdown could perhaps be written off as an inevitable
and temporary transition cost. But, of course, no such credible path has
been offered. Beset by internal divisions, ministerial departures, and
the hangover from a disastrous general election that saw it reduced to a
minority in the House of Commons, May’s government has stumbled along,
making barely any progress in negotiating the terms of Brexit, which was
originally pegged for March, 2019.

In September, May announced that Britain wanted to push Brexit back two
years, until 2021, and said that it would abide by all the E.U. rules
during the transition period. But, even after that concession, the
negotiations with Brussels remained bogged down. At the end of last
week, Donald Tusk, the E.U.’s President, said that, if Britain wanted
talks to begin a new trade agreement that would preserve its access to
the huge European market, it would have to make concessions in a number
of areas, including the settlement of Britain’s financial obligations to
the E.U.; the legal protections that would be afforded E.U. citizens
living in the United Kingdom; and the future of the border between
Northern Ireland, which is leaving in the E.U., and the Republican of
Ireland, which isn’t.

In his speech on Monday, Barnier, a former foreign minister of France,
appeared to broaden the E.U.’s demands, strongly hinting that, if
Britain wanted a favorable trade deal, it would have to abide by
European regulations in many areas, even though it would no longer be a
member of the Union. “The U.K. has chosen to leave the E.U.,” Barnier
said. “Does it want to stay close to the European model or does it want
to gradually move away from it? The U.K.’s reply to this question will
be important and even decisive, because it will shape the discussion on
our future partnership and shape also the conditions for ratification of
that partnership in many national parliaments and obviously in the
European parliament.”

Although Barnier’s language was polite, his meaning was clear: the E.U.
will not countenance Britain trying to set itself up as a haven from
regulation and taxes for international companies that want to do
business in Europe but don’t like being subject to oversight from
Brussels. And, indeed, that is precisely the scenario that some of May’s
colleagues—including Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, and Michael
Gove, the environment secretary—have in mind. In their mind, post-Brexit
Britain would turn into a European version of Singapore or Hong Kong
during the days of British colonial rule. “We may choose to remain
identical to the EU or we may embrace a vision more aligned with
pro-competitive regulation,” Johnson and Gove wrote, last week, in a
letter to
May
.
“Other countries must know this choice is in our hands, and they must
know it on day one.”

To give them a bit of credit, May and Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of
the Exchequer, seem to grasp that Johnson and Gove are pursuing a
fantasy. They understand that the E.U. won’t allow Britain to both have
its cake (access to the giant E.U. market) and eat it (freedom from
E.U.-style regulation). They also recognize that if companies such as
Honda and Nissan no longer have free access to and from Europe for the
outputs and inputs of their British factories, they will have little
choice but to relocate at least some of their facilities to the
Continental mainland. The same goes for big international financial
institutions, such as Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs.

So May and Hammond are still trying to pursue a so-called soft Brexit,
which would preserve as much market access as possible. But, at every
turn, they and their allies are being undermined and vilified by the
Little Englanders and the conservative Fleet Street newspapers. Last
week, the Daily Telegraph published photographs on its front page of
fifteen Conservative M.P.s who have had the temerity to suggest that the
parliament should have the right to sign off on the final Brexit deal.
The paper labelled them “The Brexit
mutineers
.”
Some of these M.P.s subsequently received threats.

“How can this be happening in a country known for its pragmatism?” the
Oxford economist Simon Wren-Lewis asked in a blog post. How indeed? With
opinion
polls
suggesting that most Britons, if given a chance, would now vote to
remain in the E.U., a second referendum seems like a good idea. But the
opposition Labour Party, for reasons of its own, has already committed
to accepting the first Brexit vote. About the only people calling for a
do-over are the Liberal Democrats, who have just twelve seats in the
Commons, and a few figures who are even less popular, such as Tony Blair
and Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman. (In a tweet last
week, Blankfein
said,
“So much at stake, why not make sure consensus still there?”) The
country is still in the grip of Brexit madness, and, sadly, there is no
relief in sight.

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November 21, 2017 at 12:51AM

The Sinister Influence of Charles Manson

The Sinister Influence of Charles Manson

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The trial of O. J. Simpson took place in the charmless Los
Angeles Criminal Courts Building, on West Temple Street, in 1995. When court
broke for the day, those of us who covered the trial would walk out the
front door and stare at the empty hulk across the street—the Hall of
Justice, which had been built in 1925 but was damaged in an earthquake,
and stood unoccupied and abandoned. Still, in some way, we knew that our
work had been invented in that crumbling structure, because that’s where
the trial of Charles Manson took place.

Manson died on Sunday—remarkably, he was eighty-three years old.
His era had long passed by the time of his death, but his legacy was
surprisingly durable. In media, in criminal law, and in popular culture,
Manson created a template that, for better or worse, is still familiar
today.

Manson’s name is virtually synonymous with mass murder, so for people
who are only vaguely aware of his story it often comes as a surprise to
learn that he never killed anyone. In the late nineteen-sixties, he was
the leader of a cult called the Family—the trial ushered in the wide
use of the term “cult,” to note one example of Manson’s broad influence.
Based on a ranch, in the desert outside Los Angeles, Manson exercised
mesmerizing power over a small band of followers. On
the night of August 8, 1969, Charles (Tex) Watson and three women, acting on
Manson’s direction, went to the Hollywood Hills home of Sharon Tate, an
actress who was eight and a half months pregnant, and slaughtered her
and four of her friends. Two nights later, at a house in a different Los
Angeles neighborhood, the same quartet, this time joined by two more
Family members and Manson, killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. (Manson
left before the murders were committed.)

Manson and his followers were arrested some weeks later (on suspicion of stealing
cars), and it took some time not only for police to connect them to the
murders but even for the two sets of killings to be linked to each
other. Manson’s trial in the Tate case began in June, 1970. The case was
a media spectacle; although cameras were not allowed in courtrooms at
that time, it helped create the demand for them. Manson had a dark
charisma, and he enjoyed the attention. The trial was such a sensation
that President Richard Nixon pronounced Manson guilty before the jury had gone out; the judge declined a request for a
mistrial. (This anticipated President Donald Trump’s public condemnation
of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
, before his court martial for desertion was
over.)

But it was really in the aftermath of the trial that the case, and
Manson himself, became fixed in the public imagination. Vincent
Bugliosi, the lead prosecutor, wrote an account of it, called “Helter
Skelter
,”after the Beatles song that Manson said had served as his inspiration.
The book helped create the true-crime genre, which remains a publishing
institution.

The Manson “Family” both anticipated and inspired the growth of sinister
cults in American life, especially in California. In the decade that
followed the Manson murders, the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped
Patty Hearst, in Berkeley, and Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple, in San
Francisco, transfixed supporters, more than nine hundred of whom
committed mass suicide in Guyana. Before Manson, it was more or less a
given that criminals chose to associate with one another in gangs or in
crime families. But Manson told the world that people became criminals
through the influence of others, as well. Our fascination with Stockholm
syndrome and brainwashing owes much to what the world saw in the Manson
case.

The Hall of Justice reopened a few years ago, after a thorough
renovation. Many who practice in its courtrooms today were not even born
when Manson stood trial. But, whether they know it or not, the lawyers
there, and the journalists who follow them, are working in the long
shadow of the man who just died.

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November 21, 2017 at 12:51AM

Jetiquette: Is it OK to Ask to Swap Seats on Planes?

Jetiquette: Is it OK to Ask to Swap Seats on Planes?

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Welcome to Jetiquettea new TPG column that explores the etiquette — the fragile social contracts, the delicate dos and don’ts — of air travel. Have an opinion or suggestion for a future subject? Sound off in the comments below. 

Controversies ignited by airline seating make the headlines regularly, and the last few months has seen some doozies. In May, Ryanair was accused of punishing flyers who don’t opt to pay a seat reservation fee by assigning them middle seats; in July, conservative political commentator Ann Coulter threw a tantrum over a Delta glitch that didn’t recognize her request to change from an exit row window, to an exit row aisle seat; and the summer rollout of Basic Economy fares (and their nonnegotiable, last-minute seat assignments) across all three major U.S. carriers are still spurring confusion and anger at airports across the country.

Luckily it is possible to trade seats, or decline a trade, without riling up every potential seatmate within earshot. Here’s how.

How to ask a passenger to change seats
Image by slobo / Getty Images.

How to manage expectations and politely ask to change seats

“Passengers are required to take the seats listed on their boarding passes during boarding and take off for a variety of reasons,” says Ad van Aken, supervisor and protocol for KLM‘s public relations team. “It is important for the weight balance of the plane, for security reasons so we know which passengers are in which seats, and because of special requests, such as special meals or wheelchair passengers.”

If you’re not limited by such security or safety concerns, then let’s talk about how to go about it.

Unspoken rules exist in world of passenger air travel, like how the middle seat gets both armrests or how the aisle passenger should not simply pull in their knees, but stand and exit the row to allow an inner passenger to get up and go to the lavatory. It’s just common courtesy, right?

Well, the unspoken rule when it comes to seat swaps is that only better or equivalent exchanges should be offered.

For example, asking to move to an aisle seat — because you want to sit closer to your party or because you have a dangerously short layover are good excuses — and offering another aisle seat in exchange is generally acceptable. Asking to take someone’s economy seat to be next to your family, but offering a middle seat in a higher class is a toss-up but worth a try. Desiring another’s window seat but offering a middle without a compelling excuse is generally unacceptable.

The quiet shuffle of a flight boarding belies the intensity of the situation, and there’s no guessing how stressed, tired, confused, anxious, or physically or mentally comfortable your fellow passengers might be at that moment. Accept that the answer to your swap request might be “no,” and it may take many tries before reaching an acceptable swap, if you are successful.

 

Asking someone to move seats
Don’t be the guy caught trying to exchange a middle seat for an aisle. Image by TommasoT / Getty Images.

How to politely decline someone’s seat-change request

Julia Buckley is someone who says no to swaps. The London-based journalist and British Airways Executive Club Gold flyer looks like a normal, healthy traveler (albeit a bit on the tall side). However, she suffers from chronic pain and literally wrote the book on traveling with a debilitating, but invisible, condition.

“British Airways Club World at the back of the cabin is a dream for me,” says Buckley of her top seat pack. “[It’s] privacy and direct-aisle access, and an ‘A’ seat means my trapped nerve isn’t pressed up against a divider. Getting that seat makes a huge difference to how I’ll feel at the end of the flight. I’ve only ever been asked once to give up that seat, for a couple who didn’t want to be split up. They were really annoyed when I refused, and they tried to tell me how I looked like I needed an aisle seat, but I stuck with it. I don’t think I’d ever give that seat up for anyone.”

When the topic of seat swapping was tackled earlier this year by Quora, the consensus was that unwanted seat requests were best met with a “friendly and polite” response of “no.”

“No” gets the point across, but it’s hardly the hoped-for response. It takes confidence not to acquiesce, but know that you do not owe an explanation for wanting to sit in your assigned seat, unless you’re asked for one by cabin crew. And even then, “because it’s my assigned seat” should suffice. Keep your boarding pass within reach to prove your place. If you paid extra for a premium seat — be it extra legroom, nearer the front of the plane or in a higher class entirely — that is a contract you’ve entered into with the airline for a provided service, and makes “because I paid for it” a stronger rejoinder.

Remember that some things are beyond your control

Aircraft swaps, irregular operations and ticketing conundrums can cause even the best-prepared flyers to find themselves separated from family or downgraded and forced into the last available seat (a middle within sniffing distance of the rear lavatories, naturally), so approach every request with a grain of compassion.

If the situation is serious — and there any number of ways it can be, from crew having to move passengers for safety reasons to managing the weight and balance of the aircraft itself — the only acceptable response is to follow the instructions of the crew or be in violation of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or local aviation governing body regulations and risking removal from the plane, fines or arrest.

“There are also seating restrictions based on safety for minors, persons with reduced mobility, and passengers traveling with infants,” notes KLM’s van Aken. “For instance, traveling younger than 12 are not allowed to sit in exit rows.”

Safety and security demands aside, it’s also worth noting that KLM is very pro–passenger choice, even opening up the seat assignment process to social media with the “Meet and Seat” program, where you can “view other passengers’ Facebook or LinkedIn profile details and see where they’ll be sitting” and join them. Introverts will be happy to hear that Meet and Seat is entirely opt-in.

Bonus etiquette rule: Beware the backstabber

If a seat swap request looks too good to be true, then it probably is.

Although I personally fly an average of 200,000 miles each year and in a range of cabins, I’ve only ever encountered blatant deceit in a seat swap twice, the most memorable being just before the start of a nonstop from New York to Delhi on an Air India Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It’s an aircraft known for being a bit narrow in economy, and the thought of my aisle seat assignment was the breadcrumb I needed to squeeze an ounce of enjoyment from the long journey.

My seat was an aisle on the middle section, and I was approached by a passenger looking to trade, and pointing to a left section aisle seat further up in the cabin. Same-same, right? I moved, but a minute later another passenger was standing at my shoulder, saying that I was sitting in their assigned seat. As it turned out, the person angling for my aisle seat had simply pointed to a seat they knew they did not have, but was still open at the moment, in a bid to get me to move with no questions asked. The swapper’s plan backfired when I returned and asked to see their boarding pass. Upon discovering that their assigned seat was a middle, I did not meekly accept the twist but demanded my original seat returned to me.

No matter if you are the swapper or the swappee, confidence and a little compassion are key to getting or keeping a good seat assignment. And don’t lie. Airplanes are tiny enough spaces without making enemies.

Have any of your own crazy seat swap stories or tips? Share and share alike, below.

Feature photo by izusek / Getty Images.

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November 21, 2017 at 12:08AM

No-Brainers: Credit Cards Everyone Should Get

No-Brainers: Credit Cards Everyone Should Get

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There are tons of great rewards credit cards out there. With banks restricting sign-up bonuses to one per lifetime or limiting approvals to folks who have 5 or fewer applications in 24 months, people in this hobby have to be more strategic about their credit card applications. That being said, there are credit cards out there that, really, everyone should get. Here are my picks for 6 no-brainer credit cards:

 

1 – Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

Getting the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card is an absolute no-brainer. With Marriott and Starwood set to merge next year, the SPG program will be discontinued. So it’s really the best time to pick up an SPG card since SPG has lower redemption rates than Marriott, allowing you to stretch this card’s sign-up bonus pretty far.

Also, SPG points transfer to Marriott 3:1, making top-tier Marriott properties more accessible than ever. Or perhaps you want to save up for a Marriott Air + Hotel award. Either way, the SPG card is very valuable. Since you can only get the sign-up bonus once and the SPG card/loyalty program will be discontinued at some point, there’s really no good reason not to get this card.

 

2 – Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card from American Express

The SPG business credit card is a no-brainer for the same reasons the personal version of the card made this list. Get it while it’s still around and reap the rewards. There’s really no downside to it…unless you’re holding out for a Sapphire Reserve card and don’t want to hit 5/24. But is that worth doing? I think two SPG card sign-up bonuses are better than one 50k Chase bonus, so I would not wait it out.

 

3 – Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom Unlimited has a lot going for it: $0 annual fee and it earns 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent. Well, not exactly. Technically it earns 1.5% cash back, but if you have another Ultimate Rewards-earning credit card, then you can convert your cash back rewards to Ultimate Rewards points. Which brings me to my next point…

 

4 – A Chase Ultimate Rewards-earning Credit Card

“But which card?” That totally depends on your budget, spending patterns, and travel goals. If I could only keep one Ultimate Rewards credit card, I’d keep my Chase Ink Plus. That card isn’t available to new applicants anymore, so I think the Chase Ink Business Preferred is a decent alternative. But what if you prefer a personal credit card? Then I’d go with either the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve and my recommendation is totally dependent on your circumstances.

 

5 – A 2% Cash Back Card

I know, it’s getting vaguer and vaguer, but a $0 annual fee 2% cash back card is a no-brainer. It offers generous rewards that can be applied towards paid travel, point purchases, or a new washer/dryer. The great thing is you can keep renewing it because there is no annual fee. My personal favorite? The Fidelity Rewards Visa. But whenever I mention it, people leave comments wondering why I’m leaving the Citi Double Cash Card out of the loop. So I’m giving it a shoutout here!

Another awesome cash back card that I’ve personally gotten great value out of? The Discover It Miles Card. Not only does it earn 3% cash back during the first year, but it has no annual fee and comes with an annual $30 in-flight wifi credit. So you’re getting paid to keep this card. Love it!

 

6 – IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card

You can’t have a no-brainer credit cards list without the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card. It continues to carry one of the lowest annual fees out there ($49) in exchange for a very generous annual reward: A free night certificate good at any IHG hotel. Use it at a fancy European hotel or the local Holiday Inn. Chances are, you’ll get more than $49 of value out of it.

 

These are my picks for no-brainer credit cards. I’d love your input. Which credit cards do you think everyone should get (and possibly keep) at some point?

 

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November 21, 2017 at 12:02AM

Angela Merkel Isn’t Going Anywhere

Angela Merkel Isn’t Going Anywhere

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Angela Merkel is not going to resign as the Chancellor of Germany. “No,
that’s not on the table,” she said, with a small, suppressed smile, when
asked, by one of two interviewers for the German television broadcaster
ZDF, if that prospect had, “in quiet moments,” occurred to her. She
hasn’t had many quiet moments this weekend, a juncture at which her job,
at least to observers, has never seemed more in danger—even if Merkel
herself doesn’t see it that way.

Almost two months ago, her party, the center-right Christian Democratic
Union, and its Bavarian partner, the Christian Social Union, came in
first place in the elections for Germany’s legislature, the Bundestag.
But they didn’t have a majority: the C.D.U./C.S.U. coalition won just
less than thirty-three per cent of the vote, giving them two hundred and
forty-six seats out of seven hundred and nine. The Social Democrats, the
traditional center-left party, meanwhile, suffered a historic collapse,
winning only about twenty per cent, its poorest result since the days of
the Weimar Republic. And, worse, in keeping with the Weimar theme, the
far-right Alternative for Germany came in third, with more than
eleven per cent of the vote and ninety-four Bundestag seats. A party
so extreme hasn’t been in the Bundestag since the fall of the Third
Reich. It is not an acceptable coalition partner, for Merkel or for
anyone. The leaders of the Social Democrats didn’t want to form one,
either, on the theory that their party had done so poorly because no one
had any idea what it stood for anymore (it is, indeed, pretty hard to
tell), and being a junior coalition partner wouldn’t help. The obvious
alternative was for the C.D.U./C.S.U. to form a coalition with two even
smaller parties, the Greens, who have an environmentally focussed
progressive agenda, and the Free Democrats, who are business-friendly
conservatives. The Germans called this the Jamaika Koalition, because
the colors of the parties were, respectively, black, green, and yellow,
like the Jamaican flag, and also because German television-news
producers seemed to like illustrating long segments on politics with
pictures of beaches and palm trees.

On Sunday night came the fall of Jamaika—or, as German press headlines
put it, “Jamaica is over!” and “Jamaica—done.” After weeks of talks, and
what Merkel, in interviews on Monday, said were dozens of pages of
carefully worked-out agreements on everything from energy policy to
kindergarten funding, the Free Democrats walked away from the
negotiations. This means that Germany, technically, has only a caretaker
government at the moment, and Merkel has only some narrow options. She
could try to govern with a minority, cobbling together the votes she
needs each time a bill comes up. (Under Germany’s rules, this is
possible, though it has not been attempted in the postwar era.) She
could call new elections, which wouldn’t happen until, perhaps, March.
(“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Merkel said, indicating that new elections
might be preferable to the first option.) She could try to keep
negotiating, perhaps with the S.P.D.; Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s
President, whose role is usually only a symbolic ratification of what
the election winners work out, said on Monday that he would encourage
this approach. He belongs to the S.P.D., and so he might have some
influence there. Or Merkel could, in fact, resign, and make it all
someone else’s problem. But whose? One reason that Germany is in this
fix is that, after twelve years with Merkel in charge, there is no other
obvious leader with her national, let alone international, standing. It
is telling that one of the European concerns about the end of Jamaika is
that no one but Merkel has the authority to get the Brexit talks
done—until there is a settlement in Germany, those may be paralyzed,
too.

Why did Jamaika fail? A few weeks ago, the Free Democrats did not seem
like the ones most likely to blow up the negotiations—they seemed lucky
to have returned to the Bundestag at all, after years of not winning a
single seat, under the leadership of an ambitious young leader,
Christian Lindner. (Germany has form of proportional representation
system: a party either has to win a seat outright or get more than five
per cent of the national popular vote.) The Greens and Merkel’s Bavarian
partners seemed to be the farthest apart, ideologically—the C.S.U. is
generally even more conservative than the C.D.U., and is under pressure
from Alternative for Germany, which has siphoned off some of its voters.
One of the last difficult issues in the negotiations was the Greens’
commitment to family reunification for war refugees who are legally
settled in Germany, meaning that they might bring relatives over later.
This is called, in German, Familiennachzug—President Donald Trump
likes to call it chain migration, and it is a point of tension for
populists throughout the West. And yet on Monday the head of the C.S.U.
said he thought that the parties could have arrived at a
compromise. Merkel, on ZDF, said she thought so, too.

“Did they just not want it?” one of the ZDF interviewers asked her,
referring to the F.D.P. At that, Merkel shrugged slightly, and said that
she was not going to judge other people’s motives. Lindner said that he
had simply concluded that it “was better not to govern at all than to
govern falsely.” Some of the German press coverage, though, has noted
that Lindner’s aspirations—he comes across as a wannabe Emmanuel Macron
of the center right—might have outrun both his party’s vote tally and
its supposedly practical, corporate-friendly spirit. That would be less
of a problem if the Alternative for Germany wasn’t waiting to take
advantage of any vacuum. Julia Klöckner, who is one of the deputy heads
of the C.D.U., tweeted that Lindner’s exit, which he had portrayed as a
dramatic break, was instead an example of “well-prepared spontaneity.”

Merkel, too, portrayed the final break as a slow act of many hours. She
is a deliberate woman, and knows planning, one assumes, when she sees
it. She also went out of her way, in interviews with ZDF and
ARD, another broadcaster, to praise the Greens. They hadn’t worked so
closely together before, and were farther way to start with, “but we
built trust,” she told ARD. “I learned a lot.”

And no, she wouldn’t resign. “When people asked me, on the
campaign trail, if I was ready to serve Germany for four more years, I
always said that I was,” Merkel said. “I see no reason to go back on
that promise.” Her party seems to be behind her, for now. Asked if she
would resign if it were the S.P.D.’s condition for entering a coalition,
she said, in a roundabout way, that blackmail wasn’t healthy for
democracies. (So, no.)

She was sorry about Jamaika, she said. “We could have gotten a lot
done.” But she was calm, and seemed willing, for the moment, to wait.
When one of the two ZDF interviewers asked if she was afraid of what new
elections might bring, she said, “I’m not actually afraid of anything.”

When the other interviewer asked about reports that Macron had
“telephoned” her, she said, “there was an exchange, but it wasn’t by
phone.”

“Video conference?” the interviewer said.

“S.M.S.?” his colleague offered.

“Something digital and modern!” the first one said.

Merkel smiled, and, though she described Macron’s well wishes, she never
gave the answer away—or her exact destination, after leaving Jamaica.

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November 20, 2017 at 11:19PM

The Creative Genius That Both “Man on the Moon” and “Jim & Andy” Missed

The Creative Genius That Both “Man on the Moon” and “Jim & Andy” Missed

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The best thing about Chris Smith’s documentary “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond—Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony
Clifton,” which is streaming on Netflix, is that it serves as a reminder
of Andy Kaufman’s singular genius. His was a genius that has yet to be
assimilated by comedy or television or, for that matter, by movies,
least of all by Milos Forman’s 1999 bio-pic about Kaufman, “Man on the
Moon,” which stars Jim Carrey and is the subject of Smith’s documentary.

“Jim & Andy” exists because Kaufman’s girlfriend, Lynne Margulies, and
his friend and collaborator Bob Zmuda shot extensive behind-the-scenes
footage, which had never been publicly seen, of Carrey at work on “Man on the Moon.” Smith uses the footage to create a double portrait of
Carrey and Kaufman, and of the former’s extraordinary portrayal of the
latter. What it reveals—and what makes the film indispensable—is that
Carrey remained in character as Kaufman (or as Kaufman’s alter ego Tony
Clifton, the crude and aggressive insult singer) throughout the shoot,
off-camera, behind the scenes, in his dressing room, and even in venues
outside the studio, such as on an impromptu visit to Steven Spielberg’s
production company. What’s more, Carrey is an active participant in “Jim
& Andy,” speaking at length on camera in a recent interview, in which he
discusses his entire life and career and goes into specific detail about
his incarnation of Kaufman. Some of his remarks prove deeply
illuminating about his work in the role, but the use that Smith makes of
those remarks, structuring “Jim & Andy” around Carrey’s own
retrospective view of this performance and of his life and career, draws
attention away from the archival footage, which is more than of
merely archival significance—it’s a better film about Kaufman than “Man
on the Moon,” and Carrey gives an even greater performance in that
footage than he did in Forman’s bio-pic.

In the recent interview, Carrey talks about the metaphysical moment he
experienced when he learned that he was cast in the role: “I decided for
the next few days to speak telepathically to people . . . That’s the moment
when Andy Kaufman showed up, tapped me on the shoulder, and said,
‘Siddown, I’ll be doing my movie.’ What happened afterwards was out of
my control.” Carrey adopts Kaufman’s identity to such an extent that, as
seen in the archival footage, when Forman needs to communicate with
Carrey, he’s reduced to addressing “Andy” and asking him to pass a
message along to “Jim.”

Carrey’s lower-case-m method, a virtual parody of a technique that’s
itself a parody of Method acting, nonetheless yields astonishing
results. The power of Carrey’s performance as Kaufman in the film is
both an impersonation of gestures and a seeming possession of emotional
energy—and the backstage submersion of Carrey into Kaufman serves a
special purpose regarding this onscreen incarnation, a purpose differing
from that which is served by other actors remaining constantly in
character while working on a movie. The difference is that the game that
Carrey plays, of suspending the boundary between performance and
reality, is the defining trait of Kaufman’s work. An actor staying in
character in the role of a bear hunter or a pilot isn’t hunting bears or
flying planes while in the dressing room; whereas Carrey, by turning his
backstage and offscreen existence into an elaborate fiction, is flying
Kaufman’s plane, hunting his bear.

The subject of Andy Kaufman’s performances was performance. He
definitively broke the boundary between a joke and a practical joke,
between person and persona. He proved that a joke is, in essence, a
floating set of quotation marks; when comedians tell a joke, they are,
in effect, quoting themselves (or their writers). Kaufman realized that
those quotation marks could be put on any words, any actions, any
thing—and turn anything in existence into a joke, opening up a
seemingly infinite abyss of put-ons and deceptions.

But Kaufman didn’t put quotation marks around random things. He put them
around extremes of feeling—love and hate, sweetness and bitterness. He
took the “Mighty Mouse” song and the Rockettes and excavated the heroism
and the joy from pop kitsch—and found humor, absurdity, and comedy in
the disproportion between their simplistic form and their powerful emotions.
He did the same thing with the cruelty, the egotism, the contempt of
Tony Clifton, and of himself as an anti-feminist wrestling villain.

Breathtaking, awe-inspiring, and frightening scenes of Carrey
imitating—being—Kaufman on the set are scattered throughout “Jim &
Andy,” but they’re rendered as snippety-snippets, decorated with music,
parenthesized with Carrey’s current-day remarks—consistently and
frustratingly defanged, neutered, packaged. Carrey talks about the
“Hyde” who takes over when he performs—though with a caveat, calling his
inner double a “good Hyde.” It’s clear when Carrey is performing; by
contrast, Kaufman was Hyding in plain sight, rendering himself and his
characters and performances indistinguishable, and his Hydes are clearly
not all good ones. His wrestling routine was a display of pure villainy,
flaunting misogyny, vanity, egotism, and condescension; his act as Tony
Clifton was insulting and violent. He played holy innocents and monsters
with equal abandon.

It’s meant as no insult to Carrey, one of the great comedians of the
era, to say that he extended the art of comedy, whereas Kaufman
transformed it. Carrey’s career slotted into existing formats and helped
to revitalize them; Kaufman’s career broke existing formats and created
new ones. What Carrey did, onscreen, playing Kaufman is extraordinary in
an utterly ordinary way; it’s a bio-pic performance at a very high level
of achievement. But what Carrey did to prepare for that performance is a
work of art in itself—a work of performance art that, fortunately, was
documented on video. From his imitation of the frame-breaking,
persona-melding Kaufman, Carrey derived the essence of Kaufman and,
working on an expensive Hollywood film with a famous and acclaimed
director, put the backstage environment and his relationship with that
director at risk in order to play the role with the sense of commitment
and identification, the sense of danger, that he felt it required.

One of the most memorable events in Kaufman’s career is also perhaps the
most horrible one—when Jerry Lawler slammed him head-first onto the floor of
the wrestling ring, jamming and nearly breaking Kaufman’s neck. The
behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot of “Man on the Moon” shows that
the dramatization of that event was originally to have featured a stunt
double for the awful moment, but Carrey insisted on doing the entire
scene himself—and it had terrifying consequences. After being thrown to
the canvas by Lawler, Carrey lay motionless, called for help, and was
fitted with a neck brace and transported to the hospital in an
ambulance. His ostensible injury was widely reported as news, and, when
he returned to the studio, reporters were waiting at the gates. Seeing
this in the “Jim & Andy” footage should be as scary for the viewer as it
was for the members of the cast and crew on the set who saw it happening
before their eyes. Instead, Carrey in the present day is edited into the
material, before it unfolds, explaining that he was only pretending: “I
was thinking as an actor, in my head: How far should I take this? How
far would Andy take it?”

The emotional recklessness, the physical danger, the political risk of
misinterpretation were the constants of Kaufman’s career—and Carrey’s
wildly daring incarnation, as documented in the rediscovered footage,
replicates that risk in cinematic form. That’s why the footage is
treated as if it’s radioactive. Forman didn’t draw on it for the film;
the studio mandates that it be locked away so that their star doesn’t
come off as an “asshole”; and Smith firmly and clearly contextualizes it
in the documentary as an archival object under glass, apostrophized
commentary, clip-happy editing, and music.

What if Forman had jettisoned the actual footage of “Man on the Moon”
and the entire film had become nothing but the documentary of the making
of a feature film that itself never got made—the “Blair Witch Project”
of comedy, and of Hollywood? “When I watch the footage of the stuff we
took behind the scenes,” the present-day Carrey says in “Jim & Andy,” “I
often wish that that was part of the movie, that it had been married in
the movie, because most people felt that the movie was happening behind
the camera.” He is right. “Man on the Moon” is to Carrey as “Jim & Andy” is to the videos
of Carrey—both of them repress and normalize what defies easy
interpretation and ready categorization in the performance. Just as “Man
on the Moon” isn’t up to Carrey’s performance in it (let alone up to
Kaufman’s own career, which it—as Carrey was well aware, in character as Kaufman, and tells
Forman—turns into “Hollywood”), “Jim & Andy” isn’t up to the 1998
backstage footage of Carrey that Smith presents. The conventions of
fiction and documentary prove to be the definitive enemies of artists
who defied and disdained them.

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November 20, 2017 at 11:05PM

The World’s Best Hotel Thanksgiving Feasts

The World’s Best Hotel Thanksgiving Feasts

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Possibly the most American of holidays, Thanksgiving has also become a huge export.  Wherever in the world you are this November 23, you’re likely to find a hotel where Norman Rockwell–like tableaus of turkey and trimmings take over dining tables. Others spice up traditional Thanksgiving offerings with local twists. Here are some of our top picks for a home-away-from-home holiday:

Courtesy Cliveden Hotel
Courtesy Cliveden Hotel

Cliveden House, Berkshire, UK

Thanksgiving at Downtown Abbey might have looked like the five-course feast (about $76 per person) at this stately Italianate pile in the British countryside, now a Relais & Chateaux property set on 376 acres of protected parkland. In the rococo French dining room, you’ll sup on roasted game consommé, Norfolk Bronze turkey — a local traditional breed — and a Venezuelan chocolate dessert (hopefully in better shape than the country that inspired it). From about $585/night.

Courtesy Grace Cafayate
Courtesy Grace Cafayate

Grace Cafayate, Calchaqui Valley, Argentina

A “barbecue butler” cuts you another slice of clay-oven baked turkey under a moonlit sky: Do you need anything else to feel grateful? Grace Cafayate, a gorgeous luxury property about 870 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, will host its annual Thanksgiving Barbecue Under The Stars in one of its lush vineyards. Food almost outdoes the setting at this holiday-themed asado, with accompaniments like blueberry gravy, vegetables off the parrilla, mashed potatoes and apple pie. Naturally, there’s superb local wine. About $330 per person/per night, including Thanksgiving dinner.

Courtesy The Curtain
Courtesy The Curtain

The Curtain Hotel and Members Club, London

In London and homesick? Superchef Marcus Samuelsson has the cure. His Red Rooster Shoreditch — the UK outpost of his hopping Harlem hotspot at the new Curtain hotel — will sling up a Thanksgiving meal (55 GBP per person) that sounds more homemade than what you’d eat at home. You’ll start with cornbread, deviled eggs and Helga’s meatballs (named for Samuelsson’s grandmother) before the main event: roast turkey with cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, mashed potatoes and green beans. Save room for cinnamon-baked apple pie and vanilla ice cream — and, yes, a pumpkin spice espresso martini. About $200/night. 

Regent Taipei, Taiwan

Thanksgiving gets a smart Asian twist at this superb luxury property — and the indulgent meal’s complimentary with your stay. For its Turkey Feast, from November 18-23, the Regent will throw in one roast turkey, two chef-made sauces and pesto bamboo shoots, mushroom chestnut with celery garlic sauce, coconut pumpkin mash, and seasonal vegetables. The package is aimed at families, but if you’re on your own, let’s not forget that turkey makes for great leftovers. From about $272/night.

Courtesy Bluefields Bay Villas
Courtesy Bluefields Bay Villas

Bluefields Bay Villas, Bluefields Bay, Jamaica

Possibly the poshest Thanksgiving dinner on offer, this repast is limited to guests of the six luxury villas — one on a private island — that make up this indulgent haven on Jamaica’s placid south coast. The “New Jamaican Cuisine” meal includes chunky lobster bisque, avocado and mint salad with feta, roast stuffed turkey with gravy, glazed roasted ham in sorrel sauce and chocolate mousse with rum cream. Bonus: Each villa includes its own full staff. From $287 per person/per night.  

Costa Rica Marriott San Jose

Take-out’s always an option for Thanksgiving — especially when it’s the over-the-top meal for 10 at this stunning Marriott property, which is set on a lush 30-acre coffee plantation. The “Turkey To-Go” dinner ($275) includes roasted turkey marinated in achiote and citrus, a salad bar, cranberry sauce, turkey gravy, house-made bread, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables and a choice of pecan, apple or berry dessert. From $228/night.

Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa

Try not to get sand in your turkey at the newly spiffed-up Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa. At the property’s lively Tortuga Beach Bar & Grill, Thanksgiving Dinner on the Beach includes salad, roasted turkey with traditional trimmings and pumpkin pie. Meanwhile, a massive buffet (about $89/person) at Ferdinand’s Caribbean Cafe, the hotel’s relaxed indoor eatery, will showcase holiday food with a local twist; think roasted Cayman pumpkin bisque, sweet potato/plantain mash, organic turkey and island snapper. Cap the evening with an after-dinner screening of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” on the beach. From $436/night.

Courtesy Auberge Saint Antoine
Courtesy Auberge Saint Antoine

Auberge St.-Antoine, Quebec City

It’s Thanksgiving a la Quebecois at this characterful Relais & Chateaux property, built on a centuries-old historic site near Quebec City’s Old Port. Sur la carte — on the menu — for “Thanksgiving Americain”: pan-seared duck foie gras, sautéed cabbage, chestnuts and apples to start; Québec wild turkey, cranberry juice, potatoes and corn from île d’Orléans; and house-made pumpkin pie to top it off. Afterwards, burn off those calories by teetering along Quebec City’s cobblestoned streets. PS: It’s “Action de graces.” Thanksgiving package: $703 USD based on double occupancy.

Courtesy Four Seasons Tokyo Maranouchi
Courtesy Four Seasons Tokyo Maranouchi

Four Seasons Tokyo Maranouchi, Tokyo

This exceptional property, situated in Tokyo’s humming Maranouchi business district, offers a storybook Thanksgiving feast (about $80 per person) just like Grandma used to make — if Grandma she sourced impeccable ingredients from Japanese farms and purveyors, that is. Among the highlights: Koshihikari rice-fed turkey breast sourced from Agishi in Ishikawa Prefecture, a coastal region 260 miles west of Tokyo. That’s served with homemade cranberry chutney, preceded by pumpkin soup and smoked salmon and followed by house-made apple pie.  Doesn’t get more down-home than that. From about $640/night.

ITC Maurya, New Delhi

Presidents Obama, Clinton, and Carter have all stayed at the ITC Maurya, a sleek Luxury Collection property in New Delhi’s tony Diplomatic Enclave. No guarantee you’ll see an ex–leader of the free world, but at least one American classic will surface at the hotel’s Pavilion restaurant this Thanksgiving: roast turkey ($38 per person) accompanied by candied maple pumpkin and tons — tons! — of trimmings. Craving a late-night gobble? The Pavilion, which overlooks the Maurya’s sparkling pool, is open 24/7. From about $330/night.

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November 20, 2017 at 11:04PM

America’s culture wars are spreading to hotels

America’s culture wars are spreading to hotels

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CHOOSING a hotel for a trip is generally seen as an apolitical decision. In contrast, restaurants and cafes have sometimes taken on an ideological tinge, with conservatives mocking liberals for their latte coffees, and liberals ribbing conservatives for their deep-fried everything and well-done steaks. But for most hotel users, location and good wi-fi matter more than the ideology of the owners. In some places that now appears to be changing: a trend turbocharged since the arrival of Donald Trump, an owner of an international hotel brand, in politics.

Suddenly the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC—on the same street as the White House and Capitol building—became the most politically-charged building in the city, if not the country. Celebrity chefs scrapped their plans to open restaurants there after Mr Trump made incendiary comments about Mexicans. Meanwhile, organisations such as the Kuwaiti embassy felt political pressure to move their events from rival hotels to the Trump building, to curry the new president’s favour.

Last week the politics of hospitality got further amplified with the announcement that a new anti-Trump hotel will open its doors in Washington DC. The 209-room Eaton Workshop, set to open next spring just six blocks from the Trump hotel, is branding itself as a progressive haven for the anti-Trump set. The description on its website could be mistaken for a conservative parody of urban liberalism, promising to “set the stage for residing guests, locals and house members to congregate around creativity and consciousness-building.” The hotel will offer an arts programme, a progressive lecture series, and a “radical approach to food and beverage.” The firm plans to add a Hong Kong hotel next year, followed by outposts in San Francisco and Seattle.

Catering specifically to a liberal clientele in big cities is probably a savvy business move. Cosmopolitan urbanites tend to have plenty of spare cash to splash out travelling. And conservatives are few in number in these places. Just 4% of voters in Washington, DC, 9% in San Francisco, and 10% in Manhattan in New York voted for Mr Trump. And going against this urban grain is costly in the travel business. When New York taxi drivers boycotted the city’s John F. Kennedy Airport in January to protest against Mr Trump’s ban on travellers from seven majority-Muslim countries, Uber, a ride-hailing app, sensed a business opportunity and dropped its surge pricing so that rides from the airport would be cheaper. But Lyft, a rival app, sensed a different sort of opportunity and announced a $1m donation to the American Civil Liberties Union, an outfit which opposed the ban. That resulted in Uber reportedly losing 200,000 users, while its rival Lyft attracted many of the progressive former Uber users away. Since then its market share has continued to climb steadily in the city and across America.

Mr Trump’s hotel in Washington, DC may have also profited from its attraction to conservatives. Before it opened, the Trump Organisation expected it to lose $2m in the first four months of 2017, as it worked to establish its clientele. Instead, in August it revealed a profit of $2m for the same period. Whether it can continue to make money is another question, however. One analysis published today by the Daily Telegraph suggests that the price of a two-night stay in Mr Trump’s Washington hotel will cost 52% less in January 2018 than it did the same month a year before, when his inauguration was held in the city. Yet the hotel does not need to appeal to everyone. It just has to attract enough people to fill its rooms and event spaces. Mr Trump’s 63m voters—plus American and foreign entities seeking to curry favour with his administration—may more than suffice.

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November 20, 2017 at 10:03PM

Okinawa Is Set to Overtake Hawaii in Visitor Numbers

Okinawa Is Set to Overtake Hawaii in Visitor Numbers

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Adam Skowronski  / Flickr

An aquarium in Okinawa. Okinawa is on track to surpass Hawaii in popularity with inbound visitors. Adam Skowronski / Flickr

Skift Take: Okinawa is benefiting from an overall boost in tourism to Japan, which broke a new visitation record this year. But Hawaii hotels may have also priced themselves out of many travelers’ budgets.

— Sean O’Neill

For decades, Hawaii has outshone Okinawa as an island destination for tourists. That looks like it’s about to change.

The number of visitors to the southern Japanese islands jumped 10.5 percent in the year ended March 31 to a record 8.77 million people, according to Okinawa prefecture data. That compares with the 8.93 million that went to Hawaii in 2016, an increase of 2.9 percent, Hawaii Tourism Authority data show.

At this pace, Okinawa could overtake Hawaii as early as this year, according to Miwako Date, the chief executive officer of Japanese developer Mori Trust Co.

Driving the boom in Okinawa is the influx of tourists from Taiwan, South Korea, mainland China and Hong Kong, who opted for some sand and sun closer to home.

Companies are betting that the expansion will continue, with hotel developments completed or planned there for Hilton, Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt Regency, and Hawaii’s Halekulani.

While about half of the visitors to Hawaii are from overseas, in Okinawa the percent coming from abroad is still low, so it’s possible such travelers will increase, said Tom Sawayanagi, managing director for Japan at JLL.

“I’m extremely positive about the tourism prospects of Okinawa,” Martin Rinck, the Asia-Pacific president for Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., said in a news conference this month. Hilton is planning to open three more hotels from 2018 to 2020 in Okinawa, where it now operates the Chatan Resort, he said.

Mori Trust, Hilton Worldwide, and Hilton Grand Vacations Inc. said this month that they will build a combined time-share resort and hotel facility in the southern prefecture with about 430 rooms. They plan to open it 2020-2021.

The average growth rate in tourists was 10 percent in Okinawa over the past five years, compared with 3 percent in Hawaii, Mori Trust’s Date said at the news conference. Overseas visitors to Okinawa reached a record 2.13 million people last fiscal year — 22 times the total of around 97,000 in 2006, according to prefectural data.

“About 80 percent of the foreign travelers are from Greater China or South Korea,” said Shoei Gaja, a supervisor for tourism in the Okinawa prefectural government. He said that Okinawa has never exceeded Hawaii in terms of tourism numbers in the past.

More Rooms

Hawaii is still far ahead of Okinawa in terms of accommodations. Rooms including those in hotels, condominiums, and time-share facilities total about 79,000 in the U.S. state, compared with around 42,700 rooms in Okinawa including budget inns and youth hostels, according to data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Okinawa prefecture.

Hotels also tend to be pricier in Hawaii, where 34 percent of rooms cost more than $500 a night and 33 percent are more than $250 up to $500. In Okinawa, the average room rate for resort hotels is about $200.

“It will still take a bit of time for the Okinawa market to become extraordinary like Hawaii,” said Tetsuo Kuboyama, the CEO of Park Grace Hotels Co., a Tokyo-based operator of Japanese hotels and inns. He was the general manager of the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel in Honolulu in the 1980’s. “The key to its success will be how much it’s able to attract the wealthy.”

–With assistance from Gareth Allan

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Katsuyo Kuwako from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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November 20, 2017 at 10:01PM