Rise, Fall, and Reckoning: The Untold Tale of Howard Johnson’s Closure in 2009 – A Riveting Journey Through Local Hotel Turmoil

Rise, Fall, and Reckoning: The Untold Tale of Howard Johnson’s Closure in 2009 – A Riveting Journey Through Local Hotel Turmoil Read More »

Hotels

HOUMA — Local hotel proprietors faced a challenging period of low occupancy rates in late 2009 due to diminished business travel, with Thibodaux’s Howard Johnson ultimately succumbing to closure on January 15, concluding its four-decade run in the industry.

David Jones, who served as manager and part owner for 19 years, acknowledged the impact of the recession, stating, “We just couldn’t make it work anymore.”

Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Houma-Thibodaux area experienced a surge in business travel, driven by a flourishing oilfield and an influx of hurricane-recovery personnel, leading to a proliferation of hotel construction. Since 2005, Terrebonne’s hotel rooms more than doubled, and Lafourche’s increased by approximately a third, excluding ongoing construction projects like Wingate by Wyndham and Courtyard by Marriott in Houma.

However, current trends reveal a growing number of unoccupied rooms. Although specific occupancy figures were not immediately available from local tourist bureaus, sales-tax data from both parishes indicated a significant downturn in hotel business over the latest three months for which information is accessible.

In Lafourche, hotel sales-tax collections dropped by 38 percent in October, 54 percent in November, and around 47 percent in December, compared to the same months in 2008. Terrebonne experienced a similar decline, with collections down 58 percent in October and 37 percent in November and December.

Howard Johnson, which traditionally maintained an occupancy rate ranging between 55 and 60 percent in a typical year, witnessed a dramatic fall to as low as 20 percent in the final months of 2009, leading to the difficult decision to close its doors. This decision also resulted in the displacement of approximately 30 employees.

Despite recent renovations amounting to $150,000, the aging Howard Johnson faced stiff competition from newer establishments like the Hampton Inn and Days Inn, according to Jones.

Hospitality professionals, including Blair Stancliff, the general manager of the Hampton Inn in Thibodaux, acknowledged the industry-wide challenge. While the first three months after opening in January met expectations, the facility ended 2009 with an average occupancy below 50 percent.

Rene Claudet, manager at Houma’s Quality Hotel, highlighted the challenging period for everyone in the industry, emphasizing that the region’s hotels heavily rely on business, especially from oilfield-related activities. Despite recent difficulties, both Claudet and Stancliff expressed optimism for a rebound, noting positive signs in bookings for the upcoming months.

In contrast, the fate of Howard Johnson remains uncertain, as the building is currently seeking a new tenant. Jones expressed gratitude for Thibodaux’s support and wished that circumstances could have allowed the iconic establishment to continue its operations.

U.S. State Department Issues Warning on Mexico: The Hidden Dangers Revealed!

U.S. State Department Issues Warning on Mexico: The Hidden Dangers Revealed! Read More »

Travel

The U.S. State Department is telling people to be careful when they go to Mexico. In the latest warning, the department says that although many students, business folks, and tourists cross the border safely every day, there’s more violence in the country now.

The alert says the same things as the one from six months ago. It mentions that drug cartels are fighting each other and the Mexican security forces to control routes for smuggling drugs along the U.S.-Mexico border. The warning points out that most of these fights happen in northern Mexico, including places like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez.

In the new alert, Tijuana is not listed as one of the cities where crimes like robberies, homicides, and carjackings have gone up. But it still includes northern Baja California, which is where Tijuana is.

The warning used to say, “Although the greatest increase of violence has occurred on the Mexican side of the U.S. border,” but they took that part out. Now, it just tells U.S. citizens to be careful in Mexico. It continues to talk about cities like Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, and Nogales, where there have been shootouts during the day in shopping centers and other public places. It also warns that criminals target and bother U.S. citizens in their cars in places like Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, and Tijuana.

Leaders from Baja California, like the Governor and Secretary of Tourism, are asking the U.S. State Department to change their warning about Tijuana. They say that the alerts don’t match what life is really like in Baja California and that it hurts the money they make from tourists. Tijuana’s Mayor also plans to ask for changes to the warning.

The State Department updates this travel alert two times a year. These alerts tell people about short-term safety conditions in a country. Different from this, travel warnings talk about long-term conditions. Mexico is one of five countries the State Department has issued travel alerts for, along with India, Niger, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Unveiling Travel Landscape of 2010: Top Destinations, Budget-Friendly Deals, and the Pulse of Wanderlust

Unveiling Travel Landscape of 2010: Top Destinations, Budget-Friendly Deals, and the Pulse of Wanderlust Read More »

Travel

In early 2010, U.S. leisure and business travelers were keen on value and affordability when planning their trips, resulting in London, Rome, and Paris securing the top positions on HotelsCombined.com’s list of international destinations. Adding variety to the mix were Bangkok, Sydney, Dubai, and Cancun.

On the domestic front, the preferred destinations for U.S. travelers were New York City, Las Vegas, Miami Beach, Orlando, New Orleans, and Miami, showcasing a diverse range of choices.

HotelsCombined.com General Manager, Michael Doubinski, noted that both vacationers and business travelers were capitalizing on competitive deals amid the current tourism climate. He emphasized that consumers were actively seeking economical options for accommodations and flights to maximize their spending power. Doubinski highlighted the prevailing weak economy and hotel rates, cautioning that as the industry rebounds, finding budget-friendly deals might become more challenging.

The decline in room rates, recorded at 8.8 percent by data firm Smith Travel Research, was a boon for travelers, offering attractive deals before the onset of the northern summer months.

London emerged as the clear favorite for American travelers in 2010, boasting an average room rate of $166. It outpaced Rome at $148 and Paris at $197. Long-haul destinations like Hong Kong and Sydney secured the fourth and fifth spots with competitive rates of $100 and $171, respectively. Bangkok, at sixth place, enticed international travelers with a nightly rate as low as $77. Barcelona claimed the seventh spot with average rates of $154, while Playa del Carmen ranked eighth as the most expensive in the top ten at $240. Cancun, in ninth place, offered average rates of $192, and Dubai, in the tenth position, incurred the second-highest nightly prices at $227 for U.S. visitors.

On the domestic front, New York City maintained its allure as the top choice for U.S. visitors, despite its $180 average rate being the country’s second-highest. Las Vegas, the second-favorite city, boasted a more affordable rate of $110 per night. Miami Beach claimed the third spot with the highest average U.S. room bill of $203, while Orlando, in fourth place, offered the most attractive hotel rates in the top 10, averaging $90 per night.

New Orleans, Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, Honolulu, and Los Angeles rounded out the list with varying price points, showcasing the diversity of choices available to travelers. The top cities listed by HotelsCombined.com aligned with Skyscanner’s ‘Most Searched for Destinations for 2010 from U.S. Airports,’ indicating a consistent preference among travelers for destinations like London, New York City, Las Vegas, Paris, Los Angeles, Orlando, Rome, and Miami.

In line with these trends, a Travelzoo survey forecasted that 74 percent of respondents would only consider vacationing in 2010 if they found a good deal. Despite the focus on competitive deals, TripAdvisor’s annual survey revealed that Americans anticipated increased travel in 2010, with 41 percent planning to spend more on leisure travel compared to 2009.

Record 3.1% Decline in World Air Travel in 2009: Unprecedented Drop Amid Global Financial Downturn

Record 3.1% Decline in World Air Travel in 2009: Unprecedented Drop Amid Global Financial Downturn Read More »

Travel

In a historic downturn for the aviation industry, global airline passenger traffic experienced a staggering 3.1 percent decline in 2009, marking the largest drop in the history of aviation, as reported by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on Friday.

International Traffic Plummets by 3.9%, Domestic Travel by 1.8% Despite Regional Variances

Preliminary figures for the year revealed a sharp decline in international traffic by approximately 3.9 percent and domestic travel by 1.8%, despite pockets of notable growth in certain regions. The ICAO’s findings underline the severe impact of the global financial crisis on the aviation sector.

Middle East Bucks the Trend with Remarkable 10% Growth; Africa Hit Hardest at -9.6%

Notably, the Middle East emerged as a beacon of growth with an impressive 10 percent surge in air travel. However, all other regions experienced negative growth, with Africa suffering the most significant blow at a staggering -9.6 percent overall, according to the ICAO’s comprehensive analysis.

Largest Drop in Passenger Traffic in Industry History Linked to Global GDP Decline

The 3.1 percent drop in passenger traffic in 2009 compared to the previous year stands as a record within the industry. The ICAO attributed this unprecedented decline to a one percent drop in the world gross domestic product (GDP) for the same period, indicating a direct correlation between economic performance and air travel trends.

“The double-digit domestic passenger traffic growth in the emerging markets of Asia and Latin America, and the relative strong performance of low-cost carriers in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific helped curtail the decline in total traffic,” the organization emphasized in a statement.

Moderate Recovery Projected with 3.3% Growth in 2010, Optimism for 5.5% Growth in 2011

Despite the bleak scenario in 2009, the ICAO expressed optimism for a moderate recovery in the airline industry, projecting a 3.3 percent growth in 2010, aligning with the improving economic conditions globally. Looking ahead to 2011, the organization forecasted a momentum build-up, aiming for a return to the traditional 5.5 percent yearly growth rate in airline passenger traffic, signaling a potential return to pre-crisis levels.

Navigating Travel Frustrations: Consumers Seek Relief Amid Booking Challenges

Navigating Travel Frustrations: Consumers Seek Relief Amid Booking Challenges Read More »

Travel

In the complex landscape of travel planning, a new report from Forrester Research suggests that the worst part of a trip may not be the journey itself but rather the booking process on the web. The study, set to be released by Forrester Research, reveals a growing dissatisfaction among consumers with the complexity of planning and booking travel online.

Henry H. Harteveldt, a Forrester travel analyst, underscores this frustration, noting that while other websites, such as retail, banking, and media, have become more user-friendly, the travel sector is lagging behind in improving the planning and booking experience.

Consumers find themselves grappling with additional fees, deciphering fine print, and navigating industry jargon, adding to the already challenging task of educating themselves about destinations, flights, and hotels. According to Mr. Harteveldt, travel companies often expect consumers to act as travel agents, raising questions about the user-friendliness of their websites.

Interestingly, the report suggests a growing inclination among consumers to explore offline travel agencies as an alternative. Mr. Harteveldt notes that more people are considering the use of good offline travel agents, signifying a shift in sentiment towards the online booking process.

Further underscoring travel-related frustrations, J. D. Power & Associates released an annual airline survey indicating a decline in customer satisfaction for the third consecutive year. Despite recent fare cuts, customer satisfaction with costs and fees has diminished, with fees for checked bags and phone booking erasing potential savings on ticket prices.

While airfares have experienced a notable drop from their peak, the impact on passenger satisfaction remains questionable. Dale Haines, senior director for the travel practice at J. D. Power, emphasizes that the reduction in fares may not resonate with passengers if accompanied by increased dissatisfaction with costs and fees.

On the hotel front, the latest J. D. Power hotel survey rates the industry more favorably, scoring 756 out of 1,000. This suggests a more consistent performance in comparison to the airline industry, which faces challenges in meeting customer expectations.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index also provides insights into the overall dissatisfaction within the travel industry, with airlines scoring 64 out of 100 and hotels receiving a slightly better score of 75.

Amidst these challenges, the U.S. Travel Association recognizes the financial impact of what they term the “frustration factor.” A survey conducted in May 2008 revealed that more than a quarter of travelers had avoided at least one trip due to frustrations with the air travel system.

Geoff Freeman, senior vice president for public affairs at the U.S. Travel Association, emphasizes the root cause of the problem as outdated air traffic infrastructure and urges Congress to finance projects to update air traffic control technology. These initiatives aim to reduce delays, but their development may take years.

As the travel industry contends with a potential prolonged passenger decline, addressing consumer frustrations becomes imperative. Analysts argue that companies are under increasing pressure to tackle these concerns, emphasizing the need to enhance the overall travel experience.

Henry H. Harteveldt raises a crucial question for the industry: “Do you really want to run a business where you’re annoying one out of three of your customers?” The concern is that this frustration could escalate, underscoring the urgency for the industry to reevaluate and improve its current practices.

In an evolving market, the industry’s main trade group, the U.S. Travel Association, has recognized the financial impact of what could be called the “frustration factor.” Its survey in May 2008 found that more than a quarter of travelers had avoided at least one trip in the previous year because of the air travel system.

“Before the recession hit, you couldn’t turn on the nightly news without more discussion about flight delays and other air travel hassles people were having,” said Geoff Freeman, senior vice president for public affairs at the association.

The trade group says the root of the problem is an outdated air traffic infrastructure, and has been pushing Congress to finance projects to update air traffic control technology to reduce delays. Some of these initiatives, which could take years to develop, are included in Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bills under consideration.

In the meantime, despite some improvements in airline performance because of a decline in the number of people traveling, Mr. Freeman acknowledged that frustrations remain — especially among the customers the industry counts on for its survival.

“Those who travel the most frequently are those who are most frustrated with the inefficiencies in the process,” he said. “As a society, we need to be thinking, what is the cost when someone says it’s not worth it to travel?”

Airlines Face Unprecedented Challenges Amidst Lingering Turbulence

Airlines Face Unprecedented Challenges Amidst Lingering Turbulence Read More »

Airlines

The airline industry finds itself navigating through one of its most challenging summers to date, and the impending fall and winter seasons could bring even more adversity—unless there’s a significant resurgence in air travel.

While the industry has been grappling for over a year with reduced spending from leisure travelers, the situation worsened following the near-collapse of the financial system in September of the previous year. Business and international travel, once a relative bright spot, experienced a sharp decline. Managing fuel costs became increasingly difficult, with carriers initially struggling to pay record-high prices last summer and now contending with extraordinarily volatile prices. Additionally, the credit markets, traditionally a source of relief for airlines in tough times, are now particularly reluctant to lend, forcing some carriers to accept high-interest rates.

Analysts emphasize that the airlines, through strategic measures such as cutting routes and employees, grounding planes, and imposing fees, can navigate through the current downturn. However, the severity of the situation is evident as the latest round of capacity cuts, effective in September, will reduce domestic flight seats to 66.5 million, the lowest September figure since 1984.

However, if conditions continue to deteriorate, industry experts warn that some airlines may face an uncertain future.

Hunter Keay, an airline analyst at Stifel Nicolaus in Baltimore, describes the crisis as unprecedented, stating, “There are too many airlines and too much capacity and really no pricing power.”

Giovanni Bisignani, Chief Executive of the International Air Transport Association, echoed similar sentiments in June, calling the current situation “unprecedented” and “the most difficult ever.”

For travelers, this means that airlines will continue to adjust their operations in the fall, not by eliminating service outright, but by reducing frequency and utilizing smaller planes on certain routes. Passengers may also experience the introduction of new fees.

Despite these challenges, there’s a bit of good news for travelers. Airlines, concerned about retaining existing passengers, are still offering low fares, often further discounted. Southwest Airlines recently ran a 48-hour sale slashing one-way fares below $100 on many shorter routes for fall travel, prompting other carriers to quickly match the cuts.

However, the positive impact of fare sales is not sufficient to counter the overarching trend of passenger demand falling faster than the airlines can cut capacity.

The industry has also been compelled to cut jobs, with the total number of employees at American carriers dropping to 583,030 in April, more than 24 percent below the peak in May 2001. Globally, airline employment is down significantly, from 1.71 million in 2000 to 1.48 million in 2008.

Major airline executives, including Willie Walsh of British Airways, have highlighted the industry’s struggle for survival. British Airways recently requested staff members to consider working up to 30 days without pay, while Air France is contemplating temporary layoffs later this year, in addition to the 3,000 job cuts announced in May.

John Heimlich, Chief Economist of the Air Transport Association, stresses that the struggle extends over the decade, stating, “One year’s profit or loss is not adequate to determine a company’s financial health. It’s the cumulative deficit and consecutive years of weakness that have mattered.”

The decline in demand for premium seats on international flights has had a significant impact, with passengers traveling on business and first-class tickets between North America and Europe down 18.4 percent in April compared to the same month last year.

Peter Morris, Chief Economist at Ascend, emphasizes the economic challenges, stating, “With the front end of the plane emptying out, you really can’t afford to keep filling up the back of the bus with ever-cheaper fares.”

Competition on trans-Atlantic routes is intense, with around 50 airlines offering connections between major European and United States cities. The liberalization of air travel through the 2007 “open skies” agreement has kept steady downward pressure on fares on the most heavily traveled routes.

For inter-European travel, the shift by many business and first-class travelers to economy seats has impacted mainline carriers like Lufthansa and Air France-KLM. However, low-cost carriers such as Easyjet, Ryanair, and Air Berlin may benefit from passengers willing to accept lower frequency and fewer amenities.

While all American carriers are facing challenges, analysts are closely monitoring the financial condition of United Airlines and US Airways. United’s reliance on corporate and trans-Pacific fliers, coupled with a lowered credit rating and high-interest debt, raises concerns. US Airways, struggling since a 2005 merger, faces cash constraints with limited borrowing options.

Analysts estimate that fees now constitute nearly 5 percent of revenue at some large airlines. Still, the fees alone cannot offset falling income.

The industry’s best outlook is if passenger demand picks up soon, allowing airlines to bolster airfares, a crucial step toward a turnaround. “If there’s going to be a recovery, it will most likely take the form of fewer discounts,” says Gary Chase, an airline analyst at Barclays Capital in New York.

Passengers are already feeling the impact of capacity cuts, with crowded flights becoming the norm. Michelle Zeccola, a frequent flier from Columbia, S.C., recalls a time when planes were less crowded, stating, “I could literally sit across three seats by myself if I wanted. Now it’s totally booked.”

As the industry grapples with ongoing challenges, its future hinges on adapting to changing circumstances and the potential revival of passenger demand.

Secure Flight Initiative: TSA Takes Charge of Passenger Screening, Encouraging Precision in Name Matching

Secure Flight Initiative: TSA Takes Charge of Passenger Screening, Encouraging Precision in Name Matching Read More »

Airlines

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is gearing up to assume the responsibility of checking passengers’ names against terrorist watch lists, shifting away from the airlines. Travelers are advised to start booking airline tickets using their full name as per their driver’s license or passport.

Later this summer, the TSA will also mandate airlines to collect passengers’ birth date and gender during the ticketing process to enhance the accuracy of the watch list matching process. This information will then be transferred to the TSA.

However, the intricacies of names pose a challenge for many reservation systems, which are not currently equipped to handle them. Airlines reassure passengers not to worry if there is no provision for middle names or birth dates during ticket purchase.

“I think the most important thing for passengers to know is that when their airline is ready to ask for that information, they’ll ask for it,” emphasized Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American Airlines, echoing advice from other carriers.

The TSA has set a target date of August 15 for airlines to begin collecting each passenger’s full name, gender, and date of birth under the Secure Flight program. The implementation will occur in phases as airlines update their systems.

Paul Leyh, the director for Secure Flight at the TSA, emphasized aligning information if discrepancies exist, stating, “If your name is Jonathan Smith and you travel as John Smith and your license says Johnny Smith — get all those things aligned.”

The objective is to streamline the process of checking travelers’ names against watch lists and collect more detailed information to reduce mistaken detentions. Asking for birth dates, for example, aims to minimize false matches, such as with children who have similar names on the watch list.

As part of the Secure Flight program, travelers experiencing name-related issues can obtain a “redress number” for identity clearance. This number, along with other passenger information, will be sent to the TSA for watch list checks, determining clearance, additional searches, or flight restrictions.

“Secure Flight is going to allow us to clear over 99 percent of passengers,” said Mr. Leyh.

For cleared travelers, the TSA retains information for seven days. For potential matches, data is kept for seven years, and for confirmed matches, it is stored for 99 years. Privacy concerns and data storage issues had initially delayed the transfer of name-matching duties from airlines to the government.

While objections regarding the scope of information collected have been addressed, concerns persist about the quality of watch list data. Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, supports efforts to enhance accuracy but highlights the lack of transparency and redress for those on the list.

The upcoming change may cause frustrations for individuals with varying names who must standardize their information across documents. Names with hyphens, foreign characters, spaces, or just initials, as well as individuals with two middle names, are among the concerns raised by travelers.

“Nicknames are going to be one of the bigger issues,” acknowledges Paul Flanigan, a spokesman for Southwest, which plans to start collecting Secure Flight data in October.

Many airlines currently do not provide a space for middle names when booking online. Still, the current message is clear: if airlines don’t ask for it, passengers don’t need to provide it.

“We’re telling customers, do business with us as you’ve always done,” assured Kent Landers, a Delta spokesman. “When the systems are ready to accept the data, we’ll advise passengers.”

Miracle on the Hudson: Captain Sullenberger’s Heroic Water Landing

Miracle on the Hudson: Captain Sullenberger’s Heroic Water Landing Read More »

Airlines

On a fateful Thursday afternoon, the narrative of US Airways Flight 1549 unfolded into a heart-stopping drama that would become etched into the annals of aviation history. Departing from La Guardia Airport with 155 souls on board, the Airbus A320 faced a grave situation when both engines lost power, the result of a perilous encounter with a flock of birds. The memories of the September 11 attacks were invoked as the aircraft, akin to a modern-day phoenix, faced a potential catastrophe. However, the unfolding events would soon reveal the extraordinary heroism of Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III.

As the aircraft ascended to 3,200 feet over the Bronx, Captain Sullenberger made a command decision that would prove to be pivotal. Opting for an emergency water landing on the icy Hudson River, he calmly instructed the 150 passengers to brace for impact, showcasing his remarkable composure in the face of adversity.

The subsequent descent and landing were nothing short of miraculous. Witnesses on high-rise buildings along the riverbanks were left in awe as the A320 executed a precise left bank and gently touched down on the frigid waters of the Hudson. The fuselage, remarkably lower than nearby apartment terraces, created plumes of water between West 48th Street in Manhattan and Weehawken, N.J., defying expectations by remaining afloat.

Passengers, prepared for a hard landing, found themselves evacuating onto the submerged wings as the aircraft floated south in the strong currents. A rapid and well-coordinated response from a flotilla of ferries, emergency boats, police, and Coast Guard vessels transformed the icy waters into a scene of organized rescue efforts. In a testament to human resilience, all passengers, along with the flight crew, were successfully transferred to rescue boats, emerging from the chilling waters with stories of gratitude and disbelief.

Governor David A. Paterson aptly termed the incident a “miracle on the Hudson,” drawing parallels to cinematic expressions of improbable events. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg commended Captain Sullenberger’s masterful handling of the crisis, emphasizing the remarkably low number of injuries.

Flight 1549, en route to Charlotte, faced engine failure about a minute into the flight, with initial investigations pointing to a double bird strike as the cause. The National Transportation Safety Board, in collaboration with state and local agencies, embarked on a thorough examination, a process anticipated to span months.

Aviation experts underscored the rarity and difficulty of the water landing maneuver executed by Captain Sullenberger. Witnesses in high-rise buildings described a controlled descent that appeared almost routine, a testament to the pilot’s skill and composure in navigating the challenging conditions presented by the choppy surface of the Hudson.

In the aftermath, the aviation community and the public marveled at the successful outcome of what could have been a tragic event. Captain Sullenberger, rightfully hailed as a hero, had transformed a potential disaster into an extraordinary feat, spotlighting the resilience and efficiency of New York City’s emergency response capabilities. The aircraft, saved from immediate sinking, was towed down the Hudson and docked at Battery Park City for a thorough examination under the scrutinizing glare of floodlights. The “Miracle on the Hudson” not only became a testament to human ingenuity and courage but also a symbol of hope in the face of adversity.