Last Chance to Earn up to 35k Points With the Starwood Business Amex

Last Chance to Earn up to 35k Points With the Starwood Business Amex

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For the last month or so, the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express has been offering an elevated sign-up bonus of 35,000 Starpoints. While this involves meeting two spending requirements ($6,000 in the first three months to earn 25,000 points and $4,000 within the first six months to earn the additional 10,000), it represents a 10,000-point increase over the standard offer for this card. If you’re interested, you only have a short time left to act; the increased bonus ends on Wednesday, November 1.

Based on TPG’s valuations, 35,000 Starpoints are worth $945. If you’ve been eying any redemptions through Marriott Rewards, keep in mind that you can also move Starpoints over to that program at a 1:3 ratio, meaning the sign-up bonus could get you 105,000 points to use toward a Marriott or Ritz-Carlton award stay.

In addition to getting you a nice amount of Starpoints thanks to this elevated bonus, the Starwood Business Amex earns you 2 points per dollar (a 5.4% return) on spending at Starwood and Marriott properties and 1 point per dollar everywhere else. Other benefits include five night and two stay credits toward SPG elite status each year, complimentary Boingo access on up to four devices and free premium in-room internet access on eligible stays. Unlike the personal Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, the business version also offers access to Sheraton Clubs with eligible rates as well as discounts with FedEx, Hertz and other vendors through the Amex OPEN Savings program. This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.

We don’t know what sign-up offer will replace the current bonus once it ends in a few days, though it will likely be the standard 25,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first three months. So if you’re interested in adding this card to your wallet and can meet both tiers of the spending requirement to earn the full 35,000 points, make sure you sign up by Wednesday, November 1!

Featured image courtesy of the St. Regis Bora Bora.

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October 30, 2017 at 08:15PM

Patrick Radden Keefe on How the Marketing of OxyContin Helped Create the Opioid Epidemic

Patrick Radden Keefe on How the Marketing of OxyContin Helped Create the Opioid Epidemic

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When OxyContin came on the market, in 1995, physicians were understandably wary of the addictive potential of a powerful new opioid. As Patrick Radden Keefe reports, the manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, aggressively marketed OxyContin to physicians, claiming that the drug’s delayed-release mechanism could limit the risk of addiction. Instead, OxyContin led to many new addictions, and many addicted patients eventually sought street drugs like heroin. Steven May started at Purdue Pharma as a sales rep in 1999, and years later went on to allege fraud against Purdue as a participant in a whistle-blower lawsuit (which was dismissed on procedural grounds). May tells Keefe that he was trained to market the drug as one “to start with and to stay with,” despite seeing early on its addictive potential.

Purdue Pharma is a privately held company controlled by members of the Sackler family, who have a net worth of thirteen billion dollars. The Sacklers have donated handsomely to cancer research, medical schools, art museums, and universities. But Keefe tells David Remnick that the Sacklers have donated “nothing for the opioid crisis. Nothing for addiction treatment. If there is any sense in that family that they bear any moral culpability for where we are today, they’re not acting on it.”

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October 30, 2017 at 08:06PM

Best Western Launches Its Third Soft Brand Collection

Best Western Launches Its Third Soft Brand Collection

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Killington Mountain Lodge  / Facebook

Kilington Mountain Lodge is one of the first two hotels to join Best Western’s newest brand, a soft brand collection called BW Signature Collection by Best Western. Killington Mountain Lodge / Facebook

Skift Take: Another day, another hotel soft brand collection. So, who’s next? Hilton or IHG?

— Deanna Ting

When we said, “Don’t expect hotel companies to stop launching new soft brands anytime soon,” we weren’t kidding.

Today, Best Western Hotels & Resorts is joining its hotel peers and launching its third hotel soft brand collection.

The BW Signature Collection by Best Western marks the company’s 11th brand, and is geared toward the upper midscale market. The company’s other two soft brands focus on upper economy and midscale (SureStay Collections by Best Western) and upscale/upper upscale (BW Premier Collection).

Unlike a “hard” hotel brand, a soft brand collection like BW Signature Collection by Best Western is meant to appeal to independent hotel owners who don’t want to be beholden to the same strict standards as a a specific brand such as Best Western, Courtyard by Marriott, or Embassy Suites, but want to benefit from a big hotel company’s distribution network.

The first soft brand hotel collections that emerged tended to focus more on the luxury and upper upscale hotel categories — think Choice Hotels’ Ascend Collection, Starwood’s (now Marriott’s) The Luxury Collection, Marriott’s Autograph Collection, and Hilton’s Curio Collection.

Today, however, hotel companies are increasingly looking to the midscale space to launch new soft brands. We saw that with Hilton’s newest soft brand, Tapestry Collection, and from Wyndham’s first soft brand collection, Trademark Hotel Collection. Just last month, Red Roof Inn entered the soft brand market with The Red Collection, which targets the “upscale economy to midscale space.”

In a statement, Best Western president and CEO David Kong said, “No one is offering a soft brand in the upper midscale segment right now, so by diversifying our offerings in the space, it is clearly an opportunity for us to capture market share and achieve scale.”

Whether Best Western is the only hotel company that has a soft brand in the upper midscale segment is highly debatable, but it’s clear that more hotel companies are capitalizing on the benefits of launching soft brands: building up scale and bringing more independent hoteliers into their networks.

These hotel companies are also aspiring to having multiple soft brands that cover a true range of hotel chain scales, from economy to luxury. A prime example of this strategy includes Hilton, which says it hopes to launch a more luxury-focused soft brand by next year.

Best Western said it has already signed two hotels to its newest soft brand: Killington Mountain Lodge in Killington, Vermont, and Brooklyn Way Hotel in Brooklyn, New York. A quick look at Best Western’s website, however, lists Brooklyn Way Hotel as a member of the company’s higher-tier BW Premier Collection soft brand, suggesting the hotel is shifting its profile from upscale to upper midscale.

For independent hoteliers, soft brand collections are primarily advantageous because they give access to the bigger brand’s distribution channels, revenue management systems, sales support, marketing programs, loyalty programs, and global reservation system — all without necessarily having to commit to strict brand standards.

The fact that all 4,100 hotels worldwide that currently carry Best Western’s brands, whether soft brand or not, are independently owned and operated suggests that Best Western is a company that knows how to work well with independent owners. And the fact that the company also has more than 30 million loyalty program members is another advantage for hoteliers who want to capitalize on loyalty relationships to drive bookings.

Whether this new soft brand for Best Western will be attractive to independent hoteliers and will ultimately help them attract more guests and repeat business remains to be seen, however. The only surety at this point is that we can expect even more of these types of hotel collection brands going forward.

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October 30, 2017 at 08:05PM

Robert Mueller Is Just Beginning to Put the Pressure On

Robert Mueller Is Just Beginning to Put the Pressure On

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The White House talking points must have gone out early on Monday
morning. Because, before the charges filed against Paul Manafort, Donald
Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime
deputy, had been unsealed, Congressman Sean Duffy, a Republican from
Wisconsin, was on CNN saying that the federal case against them “could
be a nothing-burger” if it concerned events that happened before the
2016 election.

Shortly after 9 A.M., the Times and other news organizations posted
online the
indictment
filed against Manafort and Gates. Some of the charges it contained, such
as money laundering and failure to register as a foreign agent, did
relate to the years before 2016, when Manafort’s political-consulting
firm, for which Gates also worked, received tens of millions of dollars
from a pro-Russian party in Ukraine and then, according to the
complaint, diverted much of this money through banks in Cyprus and other
tax havens.

The response from the pro-Trumpers was immediate. “Wire transfers 12
years ago & Ukraine? So nothing to do with
@realDonaldTrump, the election, &
Russia?? @CNNPolitics etc. will be
sad,” Sebastian Gorka, the former White House aide,
tweeted. In
another message, Gorka
added, “Get
this straight: The news is an old wire fraud charge. But Hillary
received $145 MILLION as she approved our Uranium sale to RUSSIA.” Just
after 10:30 A.M., Gorka’s former boss chimed in with a couple of tweets
of his own. “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part
of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the
focus?????” Trump
said,
before
adding,
“….Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”

By Trump’s standards, this was a low-key response. Around the same time,
the White House let it be known that the President wouldn’t be calling
for Mueller’s firing, at least not today. That reassured fans of the
rule of law, as well as Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, who appear
to be more narrowly concerned about being put in a tough political spot.
At least for now, they won’t have to answer the question of whether, if
Trump did get rid of Mueller, they would appoint another independent
prosecutor to replace him.

But, of course, Trump’s relatively muted reaction doesn’t mean that the
White House’s ongoing disinformation and propaganda campaign against
Mueller is over. As the special counsel’s investigation continues, this
effort will surely expand and intensify, with conspiracy theories about
Hillary Clinton continuing to feature prominently. And, judging by the
last few days, plenty of Republicans on Capitol Hill will be willing to
join in this great diversion.

Mueller, a Washington veteran, will be prepared for this. It was almost
certainly not a coincidence that it was also revealed on Monday morning
that, earlier this month, Mueller’s office had reached a coöperation
agreement
with George Papadopoulos, a young former foreign-policy adviser to the
Trump campaign. In a court filing dated October 5th, Papadopoulos
admitted lying to the F.B.I. earlier this year about his contacts with
two people connected to the Russian government. A campaign volunteer
with limited major foreign-policy experience, Papadopoulos seems
unlikely to prove a central figure in the unfolding story of the Russia
investigation. Yet he was a campaign figure actively seeking coöperation
with Russia*—*Papadopoulos met early last year with an unnamed
professor, who told him the Russian government had “dirt” on Hillary
Clinton—and his guilty plea was the first one directly related to the
2016 campaign. The plea gave lie to claims that Mueller is pursuing an
old story.

Actually, so did the indictment of Manafort and Gates. The first charge
against them, “Conspiracy against the United States”—to wit, “impeding,
impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful governmental functions
of a government agency, namely the Department of Justice and the
Department of the Treasury”—relates to actions “from in or about and
between 2006 and 2017.” So it covers the period in 2016 when Manafort
was chairman of the Trump campaign, and Gates was working with him.

Similarly, the twelfth charge alleges that, “on or about November 23,
2016 and February 10, 2017,” in seeking to distance themselves from
Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian former President of Ukraine, and his
party, Manafort and Gates made false statements and created fictitious
documents. Manafort cut his official ties to Trump last August, after
the Times reported on some of his activities in Ukraine. But, in
November, Gates was part of the Trump transition team. And, this
February, he was working for a pro-Trump Super PAC. Even after he left
that job, in March, he reportedly made multiple visits to the White
House.

These details from the indictment attracted less initial attention than
some other, more colorful details—the $934,350 Manafort spent at an
antique-rug store in Alexandria, Virginia; the $849,215 he spent at a
men’s-clothing store in New York; and the $520,440 he spent at another
store in Beverly Hills. But what brings the indictment together is the
way that these details are all being used by Mueller and his
high-powered team of prosecutors to dramatically ramp up the pressure on
people around Trump to coöperate with their investigation.

In their efforts to flip witnesses, we now know that Mueller and his
colleagues are willing to bring charges not directly related to the 2016
campaign. The Papadopoulos guilty plea, meanwhile, indicates that they
are on the alert for anybody lying to them. And they are also willing to
file felony indictments for crimes that don’t normally merit them—such
as failing to register as a foreign agent.

Among the individuals who have surely gotten the message is Michael
Flynn, the former national-security adviser. According to news reports,
he, too, earned money from foreign governments without disclosing it or
registering as a foreign agent. But Flynn isn’t the only Trump associate
who has been accused of questionable financial dealings. Back in June,
the Washington Post reported that Mueller was looking into Jared
Kushner’s finances, too.

As Mueller’s squeeze play expands, another question will be how much
Trump knew about Manafort’s efforts to promote pro-Russian interests
when he hired him to help his campaign, last March, and when he elevated
Manafort to the role of campaign chairman, in June. According to the
indictment, Manafort, was a foreign agent at that time, and should have
been registered as such. It beggars belief that Trump, who was busy
praising Vladimir Putin and encouraging the Russians to hack Clinton’s
e-mails, knew absolutely nothing of Manafort’s business dealings.

An even bigger question is what damaging information, if any, Mueller
suspects that Manafort, Gates, and others, such as Flynn, have to offer.
We can only assume that the special counsel’s office believes some of
this information may relate directly to Trump. This weekend, Wired published an
article
by Garrett M. Graff, the author of a book about Mueller’s tenure as
director of the F.B.I., pointing out that most large-scale F.B.I.
investigations now follow the same template: “Work on peripheral figures
first, encourage them to cooperate with the government against their
bosses in exchange for a lighter sentence, and then repeat the process
until the circle has closed tightly around the godfather or criminal
mastermind. There’s no reason to think that this investigation will be
any different.”

Also over the weekend, the Timesreportedone of Trump’s lawyers, Ty Cobb, as saying that the President had “no
concerns” about what Manafort or Flynn might tell the special counsel.
Cobb also said he thought that Mueller’s investigation might be nearing
its end. Right now, that looks like wishful thinking in the extreme. Or,
perhaps, it is a case of telling the client, whose approval rating in
the Gallup
poll
has just hit an all-time low of thirty-two per cent, what he wants to
hear.

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October 30, 2017 at 07:59PM

My Ranking of the Top 5 MR Credit Cards

My Ranking of the Top 5 MR Credit Cards

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American Express has a huge line-up of rewards credit cards, especially ones that earn Membership Rewards points. I’ve got my criticism of the Membership Rewards program, but the fact is that we should all be diversifying and Membership Rewards is a key part of that. With so many cards paying out Membership Rewards points, it can often get overwhelming for people to pick the right one. I always say you should pick the card that best meets your travel goals. That being said, I thought I’d share my ranking of the top 5 Membership Rewards-earning credit cards:

  1. Blue Business Plus Card from American Express. The Blue Business Plus Card earns the top spot for a simple reason: 2x Membership Rewards points on all spending. Yes, the 2x is capped at the first $50,000 but the average person isn’t going to spend more than that anyway. The fact that this card has no annual fee sweetens the deal further.
  1. The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN. Why does the Business version of this card win out over the personal? Because it has many of the same perks at a lower annual fee ($450 vs. $550). A lot of people were not amused by the Platinum Card’s $100 annual fee increase in exchange for a $200 annual Uber credit. Paid out in monthly installments, no less! The 5x travel bonus is one of the highest out there and for folks who occasionally make large purchases, the 1.5x payout on purchases of $5,000 can be very lucrative. Plus, cardholders who redeem their Membership Rewards via Pay with Points get up to 35% of their points back (up to 500,000 per calendar year). This is a really a great card for people who want to earn lots of Membership Rewards points. The premium travel perks are a nice bonus!
  1. Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. It was tough choosing between this and the Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN. Both cards offer lucrative category bonuses. The reason the Premier Rewards card ultimately won out was because the 2 – 3 point bonus categories are most relevant to the average consumer. Cardholders earn 3x points for flights booked directly with the airline and 2x at restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores. Most people will be able to generate tons of miles from these bonuses. Additionally, the $100 airline fee credit issued each calendar year helps make the $195 annual fee (waived the first year) easier to swallow.
  1. Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card from American Express. The Amex EveryDay Preferred Card is perfect for…everyday spending! It earns 3x points at grocery stores (on the first $6,000 spent) and 2x points at U.S. gas stations. Even the 1 point per $1 earned everywhere else isn’t so bad when you factor in the 50% bonus paid out every billing period where you make 30 or more purchases. With a $95 annual fee, this is a great card for people who don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege of having a Membership Rewards-earning card.
  1. The Platinum Card from American Express. The Platinum Card from American Express is still a great option for earning Membership Rewards points. Yes, the $550 annual fee sucks if you’re not making use of the $200 annual Uber credit, but you can still earn tons of points through the 5x travel bonus. Personally, I think the Hilton and Starwood Gold benefits are pretty awesome, but the reason I’ve ranked it so low? Other than the 5x travel bonus category, there aren’t really a lot of ways to generate tons of points with this card.

 

I want your feedback: What are your picks for the 5 best Membership Rewards-earning credit cards?

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October 30, 2017 at 07:48PM

Bars Are Putting on the Ritz With an Old Drink: The Tuxedo

Bars Are Putting on the Ritz With an Old Drink: The Tuxedo

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It’s possible to hate maraschino liqueur, as many people do, and still love the Tuxedo, because there are two Tuxedos — one without the liqueur — that have been battling it out for a century or so.

One, generally believed to be the original Tuxedo, is made with gin, sherry and orange bitters. It’s elegant and bone dry. (You can find it at the Bar at the Grill, Somerset and Vol. 39.)

The other, typically referred to as Tuxedo No. 2, contains gin, vermouth, maraschino liqueur and absinthe. It is also elegant, but lightly luscious. (You can find that one at Flora Bar, the Bar Room in the Beekman and the Douglas Room.)

Jessica Lambert, the head bartender at Vol. 39, is a fan of sherry and the original Tuxedo, but does not bear a grudge against the competing drink. “I think there’s room for both to exist,” she said.

One thing all the new Tuxedos seem to have in common is their luxe surroundings. “The hotel bar seems to be suitable to the old classics,” said Mo Hodges, the head bartender and an owner of the Douglas Room, where the Tuxedo is treated as the house martini. “There’s something about being in older rooms that matches up with the Tuxedo. You want to be drinking a drink that people drank there before you.”

Lee Zaremba, the beverage director at Somerset, offers an even simpler reason the Tuxedo often gets a fancy home. “It sounds like a classy cocktail,” he said.

It’s only fitting, then, that when Clover Club, the Brooklyn cocktail bar, recently decided to put a Tuxedo on its menu, the drink was listed in a section titled “The Reserve,” classic drinks rendered with rarefied spirits. The drink in question, a sherry-based Tuxedo, is made with Monkey 47, a complex, pricey German gin that Tom Macy, the head bartender and an owner, had been wanting to use.

“To do a martini seemed a little pedestrian, a little obvious,” Mr. Macy said. The natural solution: Pull that Tux out of the closet.

Recipes: Tuxedo | Tuxedo No. 2

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October 30, 2017 at 07:30PM

FREE Webinar: Personalization in Travel – Moving Beyond the Buzzword

FREE Webinar: Personalization in Travel – Moving Beyond the Buzzword

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Here’s a quick summary of this webinar:

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October 30, 2017 at 07:19PM

Artificial intelligence dazzles in Las Vegas

Artificial intelligence dazzles in Las Vegas

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Dazzle, the voice activated personal assistant backed by Lola Tech, was crowned winner at EyeforTravel’s recent summit in Las Vegas.

Image: 
Banner Ad: 
Banner URL: 
Channels: 
Article type: 

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October 30, 2017 at 07:19PM

5 United MileagePlus Awards to Book Before November 1

5 United MileagePlus Awards to Book Before November 1

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For a lot of people, October 31, 2017 gives us an excuse to stuff our faces with sugary treats — but for United MileagePlus members, it’s also one last chance to go on another kind of sweet-spot shopping spree.

Come November 1, several of the airline’s top awards — and some little-known gems — will jump in price, giving you just a couple of days to take advantage of the current rates. You can see the full list of changes here, but I also wanted to highlight a few awards I’m particularly interested in booking early this week, since there’s a good chance you may be, too.

1. Premium Transcon Business Class

Like American, Delta and JetBlue, United offers lie-flat business-class seats on all flights between New York (Newark) and Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO), in addition to Boston (BOS) to San Francisco, which recently got a premium-service boost as well.

Today, these business-class awards are priced at 25,000 miles each way, but come November 1 the saver rate will jump to 35,000 miles — or 70,000 miles for a round-trip. That’s not insignificant, so if you’re planning to book one of these flights — and you’re fortunate enough to have zeroed in on some saver award space — now’s the time to act.

2. Hawaii Lie-Flat First Class

It
It’s hard to beat a lie-flat seat to Hawaii.

With the exception of United’s upcoming final 747 flight to Honolulu — and the occasional three-cabin one-off — all of United’s planes operating service from the mainland have just two classes of service: first class and economy.

Most flights from the West Coast are operated by 737s with recliner seats in first class, while those from Chicago (ORD), Denver (DEN), Houston (IAH), Newark (EWR) and Washington, D.C. (IAD) offer lie-flat beds on every flight, with wide-body 767s or 777-200s. It’s these all-lie-flat awards that’ll jump from 40,000 to 50,000 miles each way, though lie-flat flights from other cities, such as Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) will remain at 40,000 miles.

If you’re planning to book a first-class award between Hawaii and the five central/East Coast cities referenced above, you’ll want to act before November 1.

3. Business Class to Australia/New Zealand

United
United’s Dreamliners don’t offer the latest Polaris seat, but Australia awards are still hard to come by.

United business-class seats to Australia and New Zealand can be especially challenging to come by at the saver level, but if you are able to book one of these awards, you’ll soon need to redeem an extra 10,000 miles each way — rates jump from 70,000 to 80,000 miles on Wednesday.

4. United Business Class to Europe

United
United’s 767 Polaris seats can’t be beat. But you’ll have a hard time tracking down the plane — and award space to match.

This is the most modest jump of the bunch — United business class to Europe will increase from 57,500 to 60,000 miles each way. We’re talking just 5,000 miles round-trip, but if you’re ready to ticket a biz-class flight to Europe now, there isn’t any reason to wait.

Partner redemptions will remain fixed at 70,000 miles, and with a smaller gap between flights operated by United and those flown by Star Alliance partners, such as Lufthansa and SAS, there’s a bit less incentive to book United at a lower rate.

5. Asia to/from Australia/New Zealand

Hoping to use your miles for Champagne and caviar on Thai Airways? It
Hoping to use your miles for Champagne and caviar on Thai Airways? It’ll cost you quite a bit more come November 1.

My all-time favorite United redemption will soon see a significant jump in price, when partner first-class awards between South Asia and Australia/New Zealand go from 40,000 to 65,000 miles each way. I used this award-chart steal to fly Thai Airways first class with a friend at an incredible rate — this one was ripe for devaluation, so I’m not surprised to see it go. Business-class awards will soon cost 50,000 miles, 10,000 more than you’ll currently redeem to fly in first.

Travelers continuing on to North Asia will take a hit, too, with business-class awards jumping from 40,000 to 55,000 miles and first class increasing from 50,000 to 75,000 miles. Ouch!

Bottom Line

Nobody likes an award-chart devaluation, and while United’s latest update could have been worse, several of the changes are sure to be unpopular with frequent flyers.

November 1 also marks the introduction of Everyday Awards, which will replace standard redemptions. This new level will fluctuate based on demand, with some awards costing more than they do today and others available for a bit less. We’ll have to wait until Wednesday to see exactly how this particular component pans out.

Which United awards are you booking by October 31?

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October 30, 2017 at 07:08PM

Nebraska Tourism Officials Want More Money to Fight the Flyover State Perception

Nebraska Tourism Officials Want More Money to Fight the Flyover State Perception

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Diana Robinson  / Flickr

Nebraska wants to be better known as a tourist destination. Pictured are Sandhill Cranes standing in the Platte River at sunset near Kearney, Nebraska. Diana Robinson / Flickr

Skift Take: One of the first items on the agenda for the Nebraska Tourism Commission should be to convince local politicians to not take funds from the state’s lodging tax fund if Nebraska has hopes for its tourism industry.

— Dan Peltier

Nebraska has fallen behind most other states in its efforts to attract out-of-state tourists and placed last in a recent national ranking of locations people would like to visit, according to a state’s tourism commission report.

The Nebraska Tourism Commission offered a blunt assessment of its situation in a budget request last week to lawmakers and Gov. Pete Ricketts, who frequently note that tourism is the state’s third-largest industry.

The commission said it faces “a significant competitive disadvantage” compared to its peers in other states, and its $6.5 million budget is less than half of the $13.1 million national median for tourism agencies.

Nebraska finished in last place in the 2016-17 “Portrait of the American Traveler” ranking of places people would like to vacation, the report said. The state also fared poorly in key factors that are known to drive out-of-state visits — ad awareness, familiarity with the state as a tourism spot and likelihood of vacationing in Nebraska.

“It’s a signal to me that we have to present the state and invite people here in a different way,” said John Ricks, the Nebraska Tourism Commission’s new director.

Tourism officials hope to fight the perception of Nebraska as a flat, boring flyover state with no appeal to outsiders.

The commission is seeking permission to access an additional $500,000 annually from a cash fund generated by the state’s one percent lodging tax, which is imposed on hotels to help promote tourism. The money is already in the fund, so lawmakers wouldn’t have to approve new spending. However, lawmakers have drawn money from such funds in recent years to help balance the state budget.

Nebraska has traditionally been an underdog compared to other states with bigger tourism budgets, and allowing the commission to access more of the lodging tax would help it generate more interest in the state, said Roger Jasnoch, director of the Kearney Visitors Bureau.

“Certainly, when you have states that have two or three times the budget we have, we are at a disadvantage,” said Jasnoch, who also serves on the tourism commission.

Ricks said the additional money would help pay for research and promotions targeted at key out-of-state areas, which in turn would draw more visitors and generate additional tax revenue for the agency. He said the cash fund has grown by roughly 6.5 percent annually.

Nebraska is faring much better with in-state tourists, thanks in part to the increasingly popular Nebraska Passport program, Ricks said.

The program encourages residents to visit “passport stops” throughout the state, where they collect stamps and qualify for prizes. Roughly 3,500 people submitted prize entry sheets this year, shattering last year’s record of 1,292 and blowing past the 452 people who participated in 2014.

Ricks said the passport program has exceeded expectations but argued that the commission also needs to concentrate on out-of-state visitors, who tend to stay longer and spend more on their trips.

“There’s been a lot of money spent for in-state tourism,” Ricks said. “I call that singing to the choir. Nebraskans love the state and they want to travel it.”

Last year, he said the commission launched television and billboard ads in the Des Moines, Kansas City, Denver and Springfield, Missouri, markets, and saw an uptick in web traffic and requests for visitor’s guides from those areas.

“If you invite the right people, with the right message, at the right time, and they’ll come,” he said. “If we put money into the correct markets, we can interest people in coming here.”

A spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts said the administration will review all agency budget requests as they prepare for next year’s session.

“It is important to note that the governor has been urging state agencies to exercise fiscal restraint on an ongoing basis,” said Taylor Gage, the governor’s director of strategic communications.

Whether the request succeeds will depend on a variety of factors, including the state’s expected tax collections and competing requests from other state agencies, said Sen. John Stinner of Gering. Stinner, the chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, said it’s too early to tell whether the committee will deem the issue a priority.

“Everything’s on the table at this point,” he said. “All of this has to be analyzed together.”

 

This article was written by Grant Schulte from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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October 30, 2017 at 07:01PM