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Apr 7, 2008

The National Tour Association kicked off its Spring Meet at the Mohegan Sun conference center in Uncasville, Conn., and welcomed two representatives of the U.S. Department of Commerce to help educate NTA members on how to cultivate inbound tourism from the Chinese market. NTA is the first and only travel association to offer a proposal to the Commerce Department to have its member tour operators approved by the Chinese government to carry Chinese leisure travelers into U.S. inbound markets. The U.S. began hammering out a bilateral tourism agreement with China with a memorandum of understanding signed last December. Chinese citizens are not allowed to take leisure trips to other countries unless China has a bilateral agreement with them. China did not previously have an agreement with the U.S. primarily because the U.S. was not able to meet the Chinese requirements for regulation because the U.S. does not regulate the travel industry. Chinese agreements require a list of approved operators from the host countries and the U.S. has no such lists and no mechanism for qualifying or selecting which businesses may conduct international business. The respective countries were talking different languages and could not determine a framework for negotiations. The logjam was broken when the Commerce Department hit on what its officials call a "private sector solution," by which it reached out to private sector travel associations who could qualify tour operators and prepare lists of approved businesses for the Chinese government. The plan was approved by the Chinese government and NTA is the first and only association so far to be approved for the business. The Chinese GDP is growing by 10 percent a year, and its middle and affluent classes are growing rapidly. The potential outbound market is thought to be huge, though the commerce department is not even willing to make projections on how big at the moment. NTA is getting the jump on that market as its tour operators explore the inbound market and begin to educate themselves on how to handle it. Visit www.ntaonline.com Apr 4, 2008

A marathon of press conferences for DATE kicked off Wednesday morning with what could possibly be the biggest news to come out of the show. Barcelo Bavaro Beach Hotels & Resorts announced plans for complete refurbishments of all five of its properties in Punta Cana, beginning with the Bavaro Beach Resort. The Bavaro Beach Resort will have all of its 600 rooms upgraded to junior suites. The five-hotel complex will then add a new golf course, casino, disco and theater within the next two to four years. Preliminary work on what has been described as a project with no budget began earlier this year as rooms were assessed. "Of course we always have a budget, but this is something that will not have a limit," says Juan Marques, director general of the Bavaro Beach Resort, which first opened in 1985. "But to say we would stop at $100 million or even $200 million would be wrong. Whatever it takes, we will do." Apr 3, 2008

Economy chain Red Roof Inns has unveiled NextGen redesign, its new design prototype focused on guestrooms and open-space areas, which will offer sleek and modern innovation that will strike a chord with travelers on a budget. It will include new bathrooms featuring granite countertops, vessel sinks and oversized showers with rain-flow showerheads. Red Roof will also add wireless Internet and flat-screen TV's to the guestrooms, along with new bedding and redesigned workspaces. Lobbies will have more natural light and touches such as stone walling."We've seen that the economy has forced consumers and businesses to rethink their lodging needs and look for a brand that provides the most value for the money," said Red Roof CEO, Joseph Wheeling. "Our detail oriented Redesign gives travelers everything they need and then some. It's the basics kicked up a notch." Apr 3, 2008

Tourism to the Dominican Republic for the first half of March increased 8.6 percent compared to the first half of March 2007, says Felix Jimenez, the minister of tourism for the Dominican Republic. Numbers for the remainder of March haven't been recorded yet. For January and February combined, the country saw a 9.14 percent increase compared to last year. Jimenez says 3,027 hotels with a total of 63,000 rooms were added in 2007. He also notes that the government has poured $400 million to date in infrastructure improvements and plans to pour another $1 billion before the end of 2012. The investment seems to have paid off; the country took in more than $4 million in tourism alone in 2007. Apr 3, 2008

UK Watchdog Passenger Focus[sup.1] own research has shown nearly one in five rail travelers are unhappy with ticket buying facilities at the station and they want queuing times cut. Era of paper tickets may be drawing to a close,[sup.1] acknowledges a House of Commons Transport Select Committee, but the government[sup.1]s approach to promoting an integrated smartcard system for rail tickets similar to the London Oyster card is fine in theory but not producing results in practice.[sup.1] The Committee[sup.1]s report said the government must listen carefully to the transport operators and technology industry, and articulate a clearer strategy for the development of smartcards. It said smartcards are likely to be commercially viable for a wider range of transport uses in future- In the right circumstances, they can also provide operators with major benefits, including reduced costs of ticket sales, better monitoring, and more accurate allocation of costs and revenues.[sup.1] The Committee also noted though, that the government must ensure suitable guidelines on differential pricing (Oyster fares are heavily discounted compared with paper tickets) are included in decisions on rail fares, rail franchises and other fare regulations. Apr 3, 2008

Experts have begun to speculate that economic weakness may erode travel demand, after several years of strong growth, putting pressure on fares. In 2007, major US carriers attempted 23 sweeping domestic fare increases, of which 16 were successful, Seaney said. That impressively high success rate continued into 2008, although the pace is unsustainable, he said. The ability of airlines to raise fares hinges on their responsiveness to demand for travel on particular routes. Carriers have been strategically pulling capacity -- the number of seats for sale -- from less profitable routes and adding capacity to more lucrative routes that see less competition. As a result, planes have been fuller, and airlines earn more per flight. Delta Air Lines from US airlines show planes are nearly full. In February, typically a slow travel month, American Airlines had a load factor of 76.9 percent, up 3 percentage points over February 2007. Apr 2, 2008

ITAMS and Passport Online have joined forces to launch MarketEaseOnline, which enables travel agents to deliver one-on-one marketing messages to clients. ITAMS is the sponsor of ClientEase, a web-based customer relationship management (CRM) database product; Passport Online Inc., is the provider of VacationPort and NexCite programs widely used for travel agency websites. The new tool is free to agents. MarketEaseOnline is a web-based CRM and email marketing tool that allows agents to create and send e-mail campaigns to their clients, while also enabling agents to create and store a client profiles. MarketEaseOnline is integrated with Passport Online's continually updated VacationPort database of thousands of leisure travel offers from more than 75 leading cruise and tour suppliers. As part of the new initiative, Passport Online expanded its consumer e-mail marketing options for suppliers. Suppliers having distribution agreements with Passport Online automatically participate in MarketEaseOnline, and can opt to participate in the new "Where-to-Next?" and "TravAlert" consumer email campaigns. Apr 2, 2008

Less-restricted sale of dot-travel names illustrates failure of a once-lofty concept. The company that operates yellowpages.travel and bills it as "officially the Better Business Bureau of the international travel industry" ran afoul of none other than the Better Business Bureau for using a trademarked name without permission. The company, Idea Labz in Santa Monica, Calif., has bought a number of dot-travel names --...

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