US Bank Now Allows for Instant Reward Redemptions for Travel Booked Anywhere

US Bank Now Allows for Instant Reward Redemptions for Travel Booked Anywhere

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US Bank just introduced a new and incredibly easy way to redeem rewards for travel. US Bank Altitude Reserve and US Bank FlexPerks cards are now eligible for instant point redemptions against travel purchases via its “Real-Time Mobile Rewards” feature.

Once enrolled, you’ll be able to redeem points against purchases right after you’ve completed the transaction. US Bank will send you a text message asking if you want to use points, and if so, you just reply with “Redeem.” US Bank had real-time mobile rewards before, but it had excluded travel purchases.

What makes this a valuable feature is that you don’t have to book through a travel portal to redeem your points. If you’re not transferring to a travel partner, a popular way to book travel is to go through a bank’s travel portal where points have a fixed rate and are treated like cash — like with the Chase Sapphire Reserve at 1.5 cents per point or Citi Premier for 1.25 cents per point.

Essentially, this move doesn’t restrict you to a bank’s travel portal, so you have the option of booking anyway you please. Bank portals can be hard to navigate, sometimes show higher prices than other options and can sell restrictive bulk airfares that can cause difficulties when trying to apply upgrades. You can also book through online shopping portals that can offer extra miles and points on purchases, and you should actually receive points for making the purchase itself too.

You’ll have to activate the feature under the ‘card benefits’ section by logging into your US Bank account on a desktop browser.

H/T: Frequent Miler

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March 1, 2018 at 04:46PM

Counting Down to Day Zero in Cape Town

Counting Down to Day Zero in Cape Town

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Two weeks ago, in Cape Town, I waited for a thunderstorm. The weather
report had called for rain, and, despite the ninety-five-degree heat, the
cloudless sky, the drought having been declared a national disaster that
day, and the weather report having repeatedly shown itself to be an
instrument of torture, I believed it. There is something wrong with a
city in which it just never rains, and there has been something very
wrong with Cape Town for a long time. Evidence of how bad things are is
all around us—the signs at the airport begging tourists to use water
carefully, the electronic billboards on the freeways flashing words like
“critical” and “severe,” the hospital smell of waterless hand sanitizer
in the office buildings, the dead grass in the parks, the empty shelves
and refrigerators in the grocery stores, the empty municipal
pools
,
the empty dams. The subject of the drought can be avoided only with
great determination. Any attempt to have an ordinary conversation about
ordinary things that might happen in the future inevitably gives way to
speculation about Day Zero, the date on which the municipal taps get
switched off and Cape Town’s four million inhabitants begin lining up
for their daily twenty-five-litre rations. Earlier, the city’s deputy
mayor had announced that Day Zero had been pushed back again, from May
11th to June 4th. (At one point, it had been April 16th; a week ago, it
was changed, again, to July 9th.) The news felt like an unearned gift,
something that could be snatched away at any time.

A friend texted me, “I can’t stand this.” I started to reply with
meteorological encouragement, but he was talking about the Presidential
recall. Everyone was. At a press briefing that afternoon, the
secretary-general of the African National Congress, Ace Magashule, had
confirmed that the Party, which holds nearly two-thirds of the seats in
the South African National Assembly, had asked President Jacob Zuma to
resign. The country had expected the announcement since three o’clock
that morning, when news of the decision was leaked to the press, or,
rather, since December, when the A.N.C. elected Cyril Ramaphosa as its
new leader. Compounding the sense of suspended animation, Magashule said
that Zuma had not been given a deadline; he was “sure,” however, that
the President would respond “soon.”

As it started to storm, many hours after it was supposed to, another
friend texted me to say that the cloud had burst. She, too, was talking
about the recall, and she was optimistic. I listened to the cheers from
the street and tried to work out what was being celebrated—the rain, or
the official acknowledgment that the President couldn’t stay where he
was. Zuma left office the next day, Valentine’s Day, and Ramaphosa, as
his deputy, automatically took his place. The morning after that, on my
way to a natural spring in the suburb of Newlands, I stopped for gas and
asked the attendant whether he was happy about the news. “About Cyril?”
he said. “Yes.” He paused. “But it needs to rain more. It needs to rain
every single day for a long time.” He banged his hand on an empty
watering can for emphasis.

On Springs Way, a narrow cul-de-sac lined with pretty Victorian houses
on one side and an old-age home on the other, the atmosphere was calmer
than it had been the last time I visited, a few weeks earlier. (The
storm had changed nothing, of course. If Day Zero had been pushed back,
it was because of a dramatic decline in water usage, and because farmers
had recently released ten billion litres of water from their private
reservoirs into the Steenbras Dam.) The spring was now under
twenty-four-hour police patrol, and traffic services were on site to
manage congestion. A woman carrying two full twenty-five-litre
containers—about six and a half gallons each—smiled at me as she walked
up to her car. She asked the policeman on duty if she could bring a
flatbed trolley down the narrow road later, and he told her that she had
until eight o’clock to do so, after which point flatbed trolleys were
banned. Residents had complained about the squeaking of the wheels.

Like every significant problem that Cape Town has faced since the end of
apartheid, the water crisis brutally illuminates the extent to which the
city remains segregated and unequal. If it has been difficult to imagine
how a middle-class person might manage the challenge presented by Day
Zero, it has been impossible to envisage how a poor person would do it.
As Jo Barnes, an epidemiologist and lecturer at Stellenbosch University,
recently told a local radio station,
twenty-five litres per person is not enough to keep a household clean
and safe in the long term. “Most people bring up the scenario of dying
of thirst,” she said. “It’s not going to happen. What’s going to happen
is that the population is going to get very ill, a lot of them.” Richer
people can, to some degree, insulate themselves from the disaster: they
can dig boreholes in their gardens, stockpile water in their spare
rooms, or, as I overheard in a restaurant in Tamboerskloof, “hire
someone to queue for us.” Most people who live in Cape Town’s townships
and informal settlements, like Khayelitsha, do
not have the means to mitigate the threat that Day Zero poses. They will
be obliged to rely on government assistance, and to hope that the
assistance is more effective than present signs indicate it will be.

Newlands is one of the city’s oldest, richest suburbs, which is to say
one of its whitest. Relatively few of the people drawing from the spring
lately have been white, and it’s not hard to imagine what violently ugly
sentiments might be concealed beneath complaints about squeaky wheels
and outside visitors taking more than their fair share. Still, people
were smiling at one another and forming orderly lines. I spoke to a
woman who lived in nearby Rondebosch, and who said that she’d been
coming to the spring since November. Between shouted instructions to her
teen-age grandson—he was holding the container at an awkward angle under
one of the taps, and she worried that he would hurt his wrist—she told
me that there wasn’t a water shortage at all. She gestured to the
mountain above us, the artesian spring water pouring from holes punched
in a white plastic pipe affixed to the fence, the bottle-green ivy
crawling up the walls of the houses that abutted the street. “There’s
water all around us,” she said. I asked her why she came, then, and she
shrugged. “We were told the water from the taps was contaminated,” she
said. “We come here because we have to.”

Cape Town is run by the A.N.C.’s main opposition, the Democratic
Alliance, which even before the water crisis had been in the midst of a
political meltdown. In the absence of clear and consistent official
messaging about Day Zero, conspiracy theories have flourished. Mayor
Patricia de Lille’s frequently repeated assertion that “a well-run city
does not run out of water” was passed around as a token of reassurance
for months, but the phrase has started to take on a different meaning:
If well-run cities don’t run out of water, then what has happened here?
Last Friday, the A.N.C.’s Sharon Davids, a member of the Western Cape’s
provincial legislature, suggested that the Democratic Alliance had
manufactured the crisis to justify entering into water-desalination
contracts with “the Jewish mafia.” Compared with this unhinged outburst,
what the woman at the Newlands spring told me sounded mild. “You know
our government is bankrupt,” she said, shrugging. “Day Zero is a way for
them to make money.” She did not seem especially put out by the idea,
and cheerfully turned her attention back to her grandson’s inept
handling of the containers.

A pair of security guards in bulletproof vests walked past, swinging
empty two-litre Coke bottles in their hands, filling up on their way to
work. A group of caterers hauled dozens of containers of water up to
their van on a flatbed trolley with exceptionally squeaky wheels. It’s
illegal to use the spring water for commercial purposes, but nobody
complained. The policeman in charge told me that it wasn’t like this all
the time, not always so peaceful. Late afternoons were out of control,
he said—many people stopped by on their way home from work—but things
had definitely calmed down a bit since Day Zero had been pushed back.
And now, he said, our new President might make a plan. A man in a suit
and tie overheard him. He gave us both a thumbs-up and said, “Cyril!”

Cape Town is a city of springs. Two of them flow in brick tunnels beneath the Houses of Parliament. When Ramaphosa gave
his first state-of-the-nation address there, three days after the recall
and the rain, he outlined his plans with water rushing far below his
feet. The same springs run under the Western Cape Provincial Archive
buildings, a third of a mile away, on Roeland Street. The W.C.P.A. is
home to nearly twenty-five linear miles’ worth of public and private
records—births, marriages, deaths, reports from magistrates’ offices and
Native Affairs commissioners, official orders that survived the
apartheid state’s purge of incriminating material just before the
transition to democracy, and colonial-era documents, including the
registries from the Slave Office. The earliest records date back to
1651, the year before the Dutch East India Company arrived in Table Bay
and established a refreshment station for ships en route to Southeast
Asia. We think of Cape Town now as catastrophically arid, a water-scarce
city, but the records in the W.C.P.A. are a reminder that abundant
freshwater was what made the area attractive to European colonizers in
the first place. Long before the Dutch arrived, people came here for
that reason. The original name for the area is Xhamissa, which in
Khoikhoi dialect means “place of sweet waters.”

The W.C.P.A.’s records are held on three floors underground. It used to
be that, if you went down to the lowest level in winter, after a
particularly heavy rain, you could stand in a dimly lit room stacked
with dusty boxes and listen to the river beneath you make its way to the
sea.

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March 1, 2018 at 04:16PM

EPA Chief Takes Bipartisan Heat Over First-Class Travel

EPA Chief Takes Bipartisan Heat Over First-Class Travel

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is getting ready to join passengers in coach after receiving bipartisan criticism for flying first-class around the globe on the taxpayers’ tab.

“There’s a change coming,” Pruitt told CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett in an interview. Pruitt said he had told his security detail that “you’re going to accommodate the security threats as they exist; you’re going to accommodate those in all ways — alternate ways — up to and including flying coach, and that is what’s going to happen on my very next flight.”

Pruitt’s comments, included in CBS News’ “The Takeout” podcast published Wednesday, come amid intense and mounting scrutiny of the EPA chief’s travel. The EPA inspector general is already evaluating the appropriateness of Pruitt’s trips, and both Democratic and Republican lawmakers asked the agency for more details after records revealed Pruitt relies heavily on first-class travel.

Representatives of the EPA did not immediately respond to emailed requests seeking more information.

Pruitt’s pricey travel included a $1,641.43 trip from Washington, D.C. to New York City last June and a round-trip ticket to Italy last summer that cost taxpayers $7,003.52.

EPA officials have said Pruitt’s use of first- and business-class service is appropriate to ensure his protection amid unprecedented threats and “vulgar” encounters. Pruitt has distanced himself from the specific travel arrangements, asserting that he is following the counsel of EPA security staff.

“The threats have been unprecedented from the very beginning,” Pruitt told Garrett. “The quantity and type are unprecedented. I have a responsibility to listen to those individuals who are charged with the obligation to keep me safe and keep employees at the agency safe. And I listen to them.”

Pruitt declined to detail specific threats, but he cited “incidents in airports” and other encounters.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Terrence Dopp from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Photo Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is getting ready to join passengers in coach after receiving bipartisan criticism for flying first-class around the globe on the taxpayers’ tab. Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg

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March 1, 2018 at 04:12PM

The Otherworldly Concept Albums of Janelle Monáe

The Otherworldly Concept Albums of Janelle Monáe

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The concept album is an extravagant obfuscation of what we imagine as
the artist’s “self”—think of Pink Floyd’s comments on sanity in “The
Dark Side of the Moon”; David Bowie adopting the costume of the alien
androgyne Ziggy Stardust; George Clinton, the human kaleidoscope, and
the extensive Funkadelic “Mothership” mythology. Historically, the
concept album has suggested a detour in an artist’s œuvre, a one-off
production that lands with attendant visuals, loaded with literary,
cinematic, and historical references. (Set pieces from the Wu-Tang Clan
have even spawned ancillary comics.) But the form has lately become a
vaguer thing, and a requirement for the famous-beyond-comprehension
artist, who, by performing some kind of thematic fiction, also performs
an intimate reveal. When, in the cartoon video for the single “The Story
of O. J.,” Jay-Z appears as the exasperated Jaybo, an update to the big-lipped Sambo, he wants us to remember that moguldom brings misery.

The thirty-two-year-old artist Janelle Monáe has taken the concept album
to complex heights; by now, the most surprising thing she could do would
be to perform as herself. A charismatic actor as well as a musician—her
turns in “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight” were quietly expert—she is
cinematic in whatever she does. “Django, never Sambo,” she brags on the
single “Django Jane,” one of two newly released tracks (with
accompanying videos) from her forthcoming album, “Dirty Computer.” She
calls her albums “emotion pictures,” and, consumed chronologically, the
Monáe suite makes up a sparkling, occasionally convoluted space
hip-hopera, inspired by Fritz Lang’s Marxist epic “Metropolis,” from
1927. Since her début EP, “Metropolis: Suite 1 (The Chase),” released in
2007, Monáe has performed as the post-human Cindi Mayweather—a
“rock-star proficient” android who falls in love with the human Anthony
Greendown. Dense liner notes and interjecting overtures on her projects
describe a dystopia apparently of her own design: the literature from
“The Electric Lady,” her 2013 album, tells us that “Janelle Monáe, Palace of
the Dogs Patient #57821,” has received “secret compositions conveyed to
her by the android hero Cindi Mayweather.” In interviews, Monáe
sometimes speaks as Cindi, at once evading and inviting questions. “The
lesbian community has tried to claim me, but I only date androids,” she
said, deadpan, to Rolling Stone, in 2010.

For a decade, Monáe has been a spokesperson: for black victims of police
brutality, on her 2015 protest song “Hell You Talmbout”; for the
independence of women artists, at the Grammys this January; for
CoverGirl, since 2012, in commercials where her smiling, heart-shaped
face looks like a post-Internet beauty ideal as created by an algorithm.
And yet Monáe’s opaque mythmaking has also been met with some justified
side-eyes, and some tedious crowing about black female authenticity. Was
this suit-wearing, pompadour-crowned futurist a package masterminded by
her label, Bad Boy Records, or a real soul prodigy?

Monáe—who for years performed in a “uniform,” variations of a
black-and-white suit—grew up in Kansas City. Her father worked as a
sanitation worker and her mother as a janitor. In high school, she wrote
musicals—one about the miracles of photosynthesis, based on Stevie
Wonder’s album “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants,” from 1979.
In Atlanta, just shy of her twenties, she worked at an Office Depot to
finance her demo, “Audition,” which she self-released, in 2003. Atlanta’s
ATLien futurists André 3000 and Big Boi both raved over her talent, and
the latter ended up executive-producing “Metropolis.” What became clear,
after the releases of “The ArchAndroid,” in 2010, and “Electric Lady,”
in 2013, and after Monáe co-founded her own label and collective,
WondaLand Arts Society, was the depth of her cultural and musical
immersion. Monáe’s albums are passionate studies of the prophecies of
Octavia Butler, the radical social criticism of Wonder, the lurching
outsiderism of Bowie.

The risk of art pop is that the mélange will overpower the music.
Monáe’s alien visions have sometimes felt like a de-rigueur,
Afrofuturist pastiche. But when the balance is right—in the fists-up
exhilaration of “Cold War,” or the “Total Eclipse of the Heart”-esque
pining of “Primetime”—the formula is winning. Monáe sings; she raps; she
dances; she writes. At the Boston House of Blues, in 2013, the night
that the City Council declared October 16th “Janelle Monáe Day,” for
her social activism, I watched the five-foot-tall artist complete a
course of choreography that was more like a chain of stunts, all while
maintaining an unnervingly spectacular vocal tone. Plenty of pop stars
have incorporated Donna Haraway’s idea of the female cyborg, its
indomitability, its performance and evasion of gender, into their
aesthetics; Monáe is one of the few to give life to its perfection. A
couple of summers ago, performing alongside the fellow-dandy Jidenna, her Wondaland label-mate, she oozed P-Funk intuition, barely pausing to
breathe.

In 2010, after Monáe sent her album “The ArchAndroid” to Prince and
Wonder for their opinions, Prince sought her out, becoming a mentor. He
contributed to “Electric Lady” and, posthumously, provides the synth
line on “Make Me Feel,” the stronger of the two singles from “Dirty
Computer.” Like her idol, Monáe is a traditional showperson, hugely
conscious of the power of symbol. Hers is the purest interpretation of
the pop star as cipher—a human on whom misfits of race, of love, and of
gender can project their own aspirational fictions. We’ve endured the
titillations of Katy Perry kissing a girl, Madonna making out with
Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera on the V.M.A. stage. But Monáe’s
response to the “speak your truth” dictate—the idea that artists are
polemicists who must reveal whatever makes them “real”—continues to
captivate. She won’t answer questions about her sexuality in interviews,
but in “Q.U.E.E.N.,” from “Electric Lady,” on which Monáe sings with
Erykah Badu (whose own concept album involved embodying Lady
“Amerykah”), Monáe teases, “Say, is it weird to like the way she wear
her tights?” In the trailer for her latest “emotion picture,” released
earlier this month, we see Monáe in the arms of two lovers, one man, one
woman. Monáe’s personae draw on artists, from Bessie Smith to Freddie
Mercury, who have communicated through metaphor, for self-protection,
and through camp, for glamour.

It’s the video for “Make Me Feel,” her version of Prince’s conversation
starter “Controversy,” that has caused the real stir online. “This is
pure, unadulterated black bisexual happiness,” a writer for Autostraddle, a queer feminist Web site, wrote. Until now, Monáe’s universe has only
obliquely featured sex; “Make Me Feel” is, to quote the lyrics, “an
emotional, sexual bender,” “powerful with a little bit of tender.” Erotic
strokes of guitar come in, accompanied by heavy whimpers. There’s
nothing robotic in this scenario: in the video, the thinker’s pop star
is all messy urges, prowling through a phalanx of swaying female legs.
She grows crazed choosing between a male and a female paramour (the
latter played by the actress Tessa Thompson). The critic Sasha Geffen
beautifully identified the blue and magenta of the video as “bisexual
lighting
”:
“She plays multiple characters and checks herself out, a visual
representation of the queer confusion that arises when you’re not sure
whether you want to sleep with someone or become them, or both,” Geffen
wrote. The video could have been Monáe’s coming out—sexually,
artistically—but she remains her own hall of mirrors. I’m eager to see
her next reflection.

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March 1, 2018 at 03:55PM

Check to See If You’re Targeted for SPG’s Latest Promotion

Check to See If You’re Targeted for SPG’s Latest Promotion

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Starwood Preferred Guest is targeting members to earn bonus Starpoints with its latest promotion. Some members have reported getting offers for up to 7,500 bonus Starpoints for completing stays. However, this promotion is targeted.

To see if you’re targeted — and there’s no reason not to check — visit the select member exclusive page. Enter your SPG number and click the “See Your Offer” option.

One TPG reader reported a targeted offer of earning up to 7,500 in bonus Starpoints for completing stays. The tiered bonus breaks down as earning 2,000 Starpoints after completing your second stay, 2,500 Starpoints for completing your third stay and 3,000 Starpoints for completing your fourth stay — for a total of 7,500. If you were targeted, you must register and complete the stays between March 1 and May 31, 2018, in order to earn the bonus points.

SPG commonly offers these targeted offers, and the program typically sends out emails for targeted members. If you didn’t receive an email, it’ll be best to check your spam folder, and if still nothing shows up, manually check on the promotion page to see if you are eligible.

It’s also possible that SPG is sending out other targeted offers besides the 7,500 bonus points. If you were targeted for something different, tell us in the comments.

Featured image of the Westin Palace Madrid.

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March 1, 2018 at 03:46PM

If I’d had more time, I would have been a data scientist

If I’d had more time, I would have been a data scientist

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This is a viewpoint from David Turnbull, founder and chief commercial officer for SnapShot.

Mark Twain’s famous “If I had more time” quotation could be updated and applied to the current generation of hotel revenue managers suffering the pain of collecting and storing data.

Nearly 20% of business time is spent searching for information – that’s one full day per week. I know the impact of this lost time all too well. During my many years spent running an outsourced revenue management service for brands such as citizenM and 25hours, my team of revenue managers racked up countless hours collecting data.  Not to mention the tiresome process of formatting the data in Excel. It genuinely pains me to think about how much more analysis time my team could have performed if they’d had clean data available at their fingertips.

I knew there needed to be a better way. To make more productive use of time, Excel spreadsheets needed to chucked in the recycle bin and this is how SnapShot came to be in 2012.

(tnooz startup pitch here).

We were able to replace the time spent digging and formatting with a demand management application (DMA) for hotels, putting into the cloud all the tools (forecast, budget, strategy) a hotel would need to manage its demand.

However, the DMA wasn’t flexible enough for our customers, especially hotel groups, for whom the flexibility to access the right data at the right time was a bigger headache than not having an interface to manage the data.

The answer was to build SnapShot on Demand, a data warehouse as a service solution, which sits above the PMS and can give data and insights to hotel groups at the push of a button. This means no more scrambling for hours to get the data. no more time spent or wasted creating the visualisations of said data in a way that pleases the MD who wants revenue and demand issues answered instantly not in a few hours.

Moreover, this approach allows hotels to clean and map segments across properties and regions so that data is understandable and actionable.

It’s crucial to understand how fundamental this ability to clean and map key performance data (especially on a multi-property level) is to reporting and BI projects, and why so many of these fail.

Data scientists spend 60% of their time normalizing data. And these are data scientists. They are not revenue managers or marketing directors or reservations managers or group sales directors or general managers, all who almost certainly have far less experience dealing with mass amounts of data. Imagine how long it takes for the average commercial analyst or revenue manager to clean up and segment data across varied properties. The answer: too much. (Note, also, that second to the amount of time spent cleaning data, data scientists spent the most time collecting data. The problem spans industries.)

SOURCE: Forbes.com

The most frequently overlooked step when it comes to data is the visualization. According to Dataconomy, visualization is one of the only means humans have for understanding complex analytics. Our brains are only able to process two to three pieces of information at one time and frequently consumer behavior requires understanding more than that. When represented visually, however, we can grasp the patterns and trends that emerge from large amounts of information. If we skip this step, however, the data becomes far less actionable.

We have heard from the market that hotel groups spend a lot of time, effort and budget on BI projects that have ultimately gone nowhere because it’s too hard to get the data. That’s why we added a function which pushes reports to specialist visualisation tools so that the data can be easily visualized and makes it easier to get projects completed.

A dedicated API, where groups can build custom applications and dashboards, also helps and opens up a wealth of opportunities – create a customized dashboard interface build an app that tracks channel costs and automatically pivots your inventory strategy based on pre-set criteria; synch housekeeping and check-ins to improve efficiencies; pre-empt guest behavior. The list could go on and on.

There is an argument that developing and implementing such proprietary applications and algorithms is a distraction for hoteliers, but the reality is that hotels need to explore and identify patterns in their data.  The first stage is to have the resources that allow key PMS and non-PMS data to be shared – this needs to be in place before custom apps can be considered.

What it comes down to is this: in the past, effective data collection and visualization has been such a pain that hoteliers have been paralyzed rather than proactive. But the issue of how much time and effort it takes to deal with data has been solved by technology.

So, it’s time to ask yourselves, if you could gain back one day of productivity each week, would you take it?

This is a viewpoint from David Turnbull, founder and chief commercial officer for SnapShot. It appears as part of the tnooz sponsored content initiative.

  • David and the SnapShot team will be hosting drinks at ITB this year in Hall 8.1, stand 127, beginning at 4:30pm on Wednesday and Thursday. To learn more about SnapShot On Demand, RSVP to the event here.

 

 

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March 1, 2018 at 03:39PM

Interview: Corporate Travel Management Wants to Crack the U.S. Market

Interview: Corporate Travel Management Wants to Crack the U.S. Market

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The race is on across corporate travel to offer a standard level of service regardless of the region a traveler is visiting.

For U.S. companies, this means looking to Asia, particularly the red-hot Chinese business travel market. But for travel management companies based in Asia-Pacific, the last few years have seen continued growth in North America as the worldwide business travel has become a powerful force.

Australia’s Corporate Travel Management, in particular, has been looking to parlay its success in its home region into a larger global footprint. With its U.S. operation based in Colorado, the company has been slowly ramping up its North American business.

“It’s funny being a global company,” said Jaimie Pherous, founder and managing director of Corporate Travel Management. “They tend to fail, particularly because they try to make everything vanilla and standardized, and usually, they over-govern, so they lose that ability for local leadership. They don’t empower them to make agile, quick decisions, which is what you need.”

Skift spoke to Pherous about the company’s ambitions in the U.S., the challenge behind building a truly global travel service network, and why corporate travel giants are so bad at building technology solutions that really work for travelers.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Skift: Your team is known for its prowess in Asia-Pacific, but over the last few years you’ve been looking to break into the U.S. corporate travel market. What challenges are you facing?

Jamie Pherous: It’s pretty hard to challenge that anyone’s growing more than we are, and I think more than that, we’re doing it differently. We’ve got a global network that’s underpinned by not just the technology, but it’s underpinned by really good personalized service, which is where we’ve come from.

You need both because [if you’re serving a large company], and the technology’s great, with a point-to-point staff and the technology can be a friend in terms of enhancing service, but when things go off the rails, you need someone who that you can rely on. After that first change and other times before and during a trip, it takes a lot of smarts and know-how to do those things properly.

Skift: How do you look at the challenge, then, of developing the right technology that can work across all these different regions?

Pherous: To me, technology’s one thing, but whatever the customer sees [is very important too]. You don’t get that scalability and high service, so the idea is that if the technology is sped up, the better for the service. For example, push notifications. You’re creating time for the travel agent to really have time for that service, when for a customer that can make or break your trip. That’s something I think we’ve gotten right [in Asia-Pacific] and we’re working really hard at it now in three other regions of the world. We’ve got a long way to go, especially in America, you know?

Skift: Corporate travel has always lagged behind the consumer sector in terms of technology. How do you approach that reality?

Pherous: Three things. It’s got to be consumer-friendly, which means it shouldn’t need any training. You don’t need training to use Expedia, do you, for example? It’s got to be seamless [to use] and you’ve gotta build it for customers, so we’re very strict on not copying our competitors. If you listen to our customers, the staff will do what they really need. It’s something that’s worked really well for us, and it can be the most mundane little thing, but until they’re put out there for customers, you don’t realize how valuable they really are to a much wider range of customers and businesses.

Skift: You run a big global company, so that usually means a lack of innovation. Is it hard trying to drive innovation when steering such a big ship?

Pherous: Yeah, I mean, it’s funny being a global company. They tend to fail, particularly because they try to make everything vanilla and standardized, and usually, they over-govern, so they lose that ability for local leadership. They don’t empower them to make agile, quick decisions, which is what you need. You need a service business these days. You’ve got different cultures, for example, in America, we’ve got a demand for a more concierge-type feel from the sales side.

Whereas, in Asia, it’s all about chat. They want WeChat and things like that which, they’re poles apart [from the U.S. service trend]. What I’m trying to say is that you need to underpin with the key things, like the tools, the reporting, and all that, but you need a localized solution for what that market needs and they’re all very, very different. I think this is a challenge for [U.S. travel management companies]. Why we expanded globally is that we had great customers, but our barrier to growth was sometimes there was a mandate to go global.

Skift: North America is a crowded corporate travel market, yet your company has been investing in the region. What can you bring to the table that others can’t, and what challenges have you faced?

Pherous: Sometimes you can’t [service everyone] in a great way. And secondly, sometimes, you can’t win customers. You’ve got to be able to service them, so [if you can’t] it forces them to go somewhere else, and today, that’s what they have as a solution. Whether it’s a good or bad solution, I don’t know, but we want to clearly outperform in the small-and-medium-sized space along with corporate. We’re looking at that regional and global service.

The advantage we have is that we’re building off a new base and when people come to work at CTM, we say, “You can come in and do your job, but you’ve actually got opportunities [to create new processes]. Put your hand up and we’ll automate it.” Same thing, whether it’s in technology or sales. If you think of an idea the customer wants, that’s gonna solve a problem, we’ll try to find a solution.

Skift: Meanwhile, your team has been in China for a while. How do you look at the growing Chinese business travel market?

Pherous: Being in China can be tricky because the laws can change, and so you’ve gotta be there, but we’ve got a handle on Asia. We’re in a number of countries, all the way through China and south to Australia. It’s a jewel in our service. Where we see that is major expansion and it’s where we’re growing, and again, why I think we do so well … We’ve got local leadership. We’ve got an integrated business that understands a local culture and that’s been a massive advantage for us.

In a global travel program, for any American company, usually Asia is the pain point, and it’s something we do very well. It’s because we come from that region, and by starting in the most complicated region, most complex region [we can make advances in others]. We see that skill as a long-term growth area for us, and again, we’ve got the dollars in sales. We’re not small, but we’ve got a long way to go there, as well, because the market is so complicated.

Photo Credit: While U.S. travel management companies are trying to break into Asia, rivals based in Asia-Pacific are doing the same in North America. Corporate Travel Management

Travel

via Skift https://skift.com

March 1, 2018 at 03:00PM

Something New on Gun Control: A Glimmer of Hope

Something New on Gun Control: A Glimmer of Hope

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Is something finally changing in America? On Wednesday morning, Dick’s Sporting Goods, the biggest sports retailer in the country, announced that it will no longer sell assault rifles and won’t sell guns of any sort to people under the age of twenty-one. Later in the day, Walmart said that it, too, was raising the age for firearms purchases. The Arkansas-based retail giant, which stopped selling assault weapons in its stores back in 2015, also said that it would now remove this class of weapons for purchase on its Web site.

In the time between those two corporate announcements, President Donald Trump told a bipartisan group of lawmakers he had invited to the White House that he favored a “comprehensive” gun-control bill, including stronger background checks, a raise in the buying age, and measures to keep firearms out of the hands of people who are mentally ill. Trump stopped short of endorsing a ban on assault weapons, which many Democrats are calling for. But he vowed to stand up to the National Rifle Association, saying. “They have great power over you people, but they have less power over me.”

On the gun issue, recent experience counsels against undue optimism, or any optimism. In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, in 2012, when Congress failed to pass even a modest background-check bill sponsored by the Democratic senator Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and the Republican senator Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania, it looked like any hope of stricter gun laws was lost.

Even now, many people on Capitol Hill believe that further inaction remains the most likely legislative outcome. For years, the N.R.A.’s grip on the Republican Party, which controls both legislative chambers, has been virtually absolute. Faced with a fresh challenge to its dominion, the gun lobby and its political representatives will do what they always do after gun massacres: delay and obfuscate in public while quietly wielding the threat of primary challenges to potential defectors. As recently as Tuesday, Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, downplayed the possibility of meaningful action, saying, “we shouldn’t be banning guns for law-abiding citizens.”

If the President were to provide the leadership that he promised on Wednesday, he could conceivably give some moderate Republicans enough cover to break with the N.R.A. But, of course, there is no guarantee that he will follow through. Wednesday’s televised meeting at the White House was eerily like the bipartisan get-together about immigration in early January, when Trump, mugging for the cameras, said that he would sign any bill protecting the Dreamers that Congress sent to him. In the ensuing weeks, he undermined any prospect of legislation passing by insisting that a bill must also contain broad changes to the laws governing legal immigration. He could easily do the same thing again here, by, for example, demanding support for his crackpot scheme of arming teachers.

But for all these qualifications, it feels that something significant is happening. Recent opinion polls suggest that support for stricter gun-control laws is now higher than it has been in decades. In a new survey from Politico/Morning Consult, for example, sixty-eight per cent of respondents said that they supported toughening up the laws, and just twenty-five per cent said they opposed it. (Even among registered Republicans, a majority said that they were in favor.) Asked about some specific proposals, more than eighty per cent of people said that they supported universal background checks, raising the age limit to twenty-one, and preventing sales to people who have been reported as dangerous.

Of course, many gun-control measures have had majority support for years. What is new is that the public, taking a lead from some of the survivors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is calling “B.S.” on the captured political system, and the popular outrage is starting to have an effect. “When we saw what happened in Parkland, we were so disturbed and upset,” Edward Stack, the chief executive of Dick’s Sporting Goods, told the Times. “We love these kids and their rallying cry, ‘Enough is enough.’ It got to us.”

It is a sad comment on the American political system that big corporations like Dick’s and Walmart—and Delta Airlines, Hertz, and Enterprise, all of which have stopped offering discounts to N.R.A. members—are more responsive to public opinion than is the Republican-controlled Congress. But that is the reality, and it is primarily driven by commercial calculations. For many corporations, the business they may lose by breaking with the N.R.A. is outweighed by the reputational risk of being associated with products that can be used to mow down office workers, night-club attendees and concertgoers, people praying in church, and schoolchildren—or with the groups that act, unwittingly or not, as the shooters’ enablers. As Stack put it, “We don’t want to be a part of this any longer.”

Trump has probably read the polls, too. On Wednesday, he for once sounded like a President eager to tackle a problem (and succeed where his predecessor couldn’t) rather than merely to rile up his conservative base. “It’s time to stop this nonsense,” he said, of the unending carnage. After expressing support for a resurrection of the Manchin-Toomey bill, and suggesting that other items should be added to it, he also knocked down an effort by Steve Scalise, the Republican congressman from Louisiana who was shot, in June, during a congressional softball practice, to bring up a concealed-carry bill that has passed the House, and which is one of the N.R.A.’s legislative priorities.

To repeat, it was only one meeting: Trump could reverse himself today or tomorrow. But there is a less tenuous reason for hope: arithmetic. The N.R.A.’s legislative veto is self-reinforcing—it depends on the carefully tended myth that it is all-powerful. In reality, however, the group’s five million members make up only about 1.5 per cent of the population, and represent only about six or seven per cent of gun owners. If the seventy per cent of Americans who support banning assault weapons, or the ninety per cent who support universal background checks, could be mobilized, they could certainly overcome the N.R.A. and its lackeys in Congress.

Such an outcome is still far, far from guaranteed. But with the public engaged, the Parkland students planning a protest march in Washington later this month, and businesses already distancing themselves from the N.R.A., there is, for once, a glimmer of light.

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March 1, 2018 at 02:51PM

Time for a New Kind of News?

Time for a New Kind of News?

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NewpaperandcoffeeA DMO friend recently asked a reporter why they never covered “good news.” And, while most media types would cough and stall…this one was completely upfront with her answer: 75% of the newspaper’s online traffic came from Facebook. And, the posts that earned the highest clicks were the ones that were the most sensational. Thus, good news didn’t get covered because it didn’t attract Facebook clicks.

What was that old line about the media? “If it bleeds, it leads?” Yeah…no different today.

Except…it is different. With Facebook’s new algorithms, media outlets don’t have nearly the incentive to run incendiary stories that often place their destinations in a less than perfect light as they once did.

As Slate’s Will Oremus recently opined, less news on Facebook might actually cleanse the news industry of “the toxic incentives of the algorithm on journalism.”

Thus, this may be the time to reconnect with local media to suggest that, now that Facebook isn’t providing the click bait upon which they once thrived, it may be time to sharpen their game with stories that their readers really want (and need).

Hell, it’s worth a shot.

Travel

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March 1, 2018 at 02:43PM