Tag Archives: Tourism

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A trip to Grand Teton National Park provides majestic views

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After settling down at the Longhorn Ranch, we took a ride into the backcountry. As evening approached, we found ourselves on Torrey Creek Road looking down a valley towards the Badlands, a world of multi-colored cliffs.

As the sun began its journey into the western hills, the sky flamed with red, gold and purple light. The sun seemed to be suspended above the Wind River and the glistening waters merged with the incredible sky.

Long rays of red and gold colors intermingled with the rippling water. Each minute we saw a change of color in the clouds above, it was a gorgeous transformation. In time, the sky grew grey as the sun hid itself behind the mountain peaks.

We have many fine memories of our various visits to this land. Our first trip to Grand Teton National Park was in April 1967 when our son was just a babe. We traveled on U.S. 26 through Dubois, Wyoming, yet have no memory of it. Each time we are close we anxiously look forward to a return. This was no exception.

We left the Longhorn Ranch early Monday morning as the sun was already high in the sky over the Shoshone National Forest. The weather bureau was forecasting a beautiful sunny day in Jackson Hole.

Once you leave Dubois and follow the Wind River into the mountain country, the terrain uplifts into higher and higher peaks with a combination of interesting rock formations and a forest of evergreen pine and grassy meadows.

We stopped several times just to take in the beauty of the Washakie Wilderness and to take a few pictures. Once we crossed Togwotee Pass at 9,434 feet, we crossed the Continental Divide and began our downhill run through the Teton National Forest.

As we neared Moran Junction from a high point on U.S. 26, we witnessed our first view of what Diane calls “Her Beautiful Ladies.” There, standing in the distance were the rocky peaks of six magnificent mountains.

We only saw them for a few minutes before they disappeared below the forward range of the national forest. A few short miles and they were once again in view as we approached the busy intersection at Moran Junction.

The Teton Range, a 40-mile rocky mountainous range was most likely the summer home of the Shoshone tribe, which called it Teewinot, meaning “many pinnacles.” French voyageurs later called the high peaks “les trios tetons” or three breasts.

Grand Teton is the most impressive peak rising to an incredible rocky point of 13,770 feet, followed by Mount Owen, Teewinot, Middle Teton, South Teton and Moran Peak. Some people refer to these jagged rocky peaks as the Cathedral Range.

The national park is vast and uniquely beautiful land with the rugged mountains having no foothills. They were formed by a tectonic plate bowed up a vast block of sedimentary rock deposited by an ancient sea.

One reason the Teton Range is famous is because of the great elevation above the eastern side. Unlike most mountain ranges, the east side of the Teton Range lacks foothills or lower peaks that can obscure the view.

This is due to the Teton Fault at the base of the range on the eastern side, and the range being too young to have eroded into soft hills. The east slope of the Teton Range rises sharply, from 5,000 to 7,000 feet above the valley floor. The view is most dramatic from the east, looking to the west. The Teton Range appear as high rolling hills that transition smoothly into flat pasture.

Anyone traveling through this unique mountain valley should consider visiting Oxbow Bend and catch a beautiful view of the Snake River and the Teton Range. A must-see is Willow Flats, an area with a large accumulation of wildlife.

Another beautiful place is Colter Bay and Jackson Lake. Few places in America compare to the Grand Teton Mountain area, whether you visit in the busy summer months or the more relaxed winter.

Lodging within this spectacular park requires reservations at least a year in advance. Plan ahead.

Jackson Hole and the Tetons have been the setting for a number of films, including John Wayne’s movie acting debut in “The Big Trail” in 1930 and Alan Ladd’s “Shane” in 1953.

Arriving in Jackson Hole, the town had changed immensely, as tourists crowded the streets and parks, cars, motorcycles, and RVs were to be everywhere. Moving was greatly restricted. We caught a quick lunch at the famed Cowboy Bar then headed back into the beauty of the Grand Teton National Park.

Our ride back to Dubois and the Longhorn Ranch provided an evening of viewing multiple wildlife from large bison and elk grazing in tall grass to eagles flying over the Snake River. Back on the Wind River we relaxed with a glass of wine listening to the peaceful splish-splashes of water passing over rocky surfaces. With darkness and the sounds of a wilderness night life sleep came easy.

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The time for space tourism may be near

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Dublin-based Ryanair recently caused commotion as it “announced” ambitious but low-cost plans to fly tourists to space by 2035.

The ultra-competitive player in the European air industry is a practiced diva when it comes to making waves, but space travel was to be its most daring gambit yet. So, when Travel and Leisure announced that this was an April Fools’ joke, no one was surprised.

April Fools stunt or not, the budget airline did generate a massive buzz around the world with the “news,” and most believed them. Since its founding in 1984, Ryanair has developed a network of routes and flights to remote corners of the European continent unserved by other airlines, including Estonia, Romania, Montenegro, and Serbia. The idea that it could affordably take us to the edge of space did not sound fantastic at all.

In a slight dig at the big players in the budding commercial space tourism niche, Ryanair said that it hoped to build a larger craft and fly more people per flight. Like all its flights, it was to offer a “no-frills” style of service to the final frontier. Judging by public enthusiasm before the April Fools’ prank was discovered, budgeting a space vacation might just work out in the distant future, but it will take time and a lot of R&D to bring to fruition.

Space tourism is no longer a part of science fiction; it’s a reality that some companies have put in motion or are seriously considering. Airlines are looking at this fantastic idea as a business-diversification strategy to survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace for 21st-century travel.

They believe that, in just a matter of decades, vacationers will look beyond remote beaches on Earth to Mars, the moon, and the outer limits of the stratosphere to spend their long weekends in. So, they are investing in space travel and branded spacecraft because that is the future of the airline business. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX have announced their goal to fly passengers commercially to space.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX says that space travel will be occur often by 2021 via its Starship. Guests can stay in a luxury hotel on Orion Span’s Aurora Space Station or the Axiom Space Station. Costs for the former will start at $9.5 million and for the latter at $55 million. The 180-foot-tall SpaceX Starship prototype will hold a maximum of 100 people.

Virgin Galactic, which has made significant progress toward innovative space travel, said that a commercial space flight might cost around $250,000. Its suborbital flights are already in demand, and over 600 people are said to have prebooked their 2019 flights to the tune of about $80 million in deposits.

The flight will last for 90 minutes, and passengers will be able to the Earth’s curvature as they experience a few minutes of weightlessness. Virgin Galactic is also designing a three-day training program for its future space tourists.

For years, space travel was the purview of fantastic Hollywood movies and NASA. Science fiction is indeed a precursor of reality, as recent NASA studies have revealed that human space travel is definitely on the cards.

The recently published “Twins Study” showed that nothing is holding human space travel and human survival in space back. This means that future travelers, even if they are not trained astronauts, could train their mind and bodies for a trip to the Red Planet and other stations in a space travel itinerary.

NASA tracked the physiological and cognitive changes of two of their astronauts, twins Mark and Scott Kelly. Scott recently spent 340 days in space, while Mark is a retired astronaut. Important information about what happens to the human body in microgravity over time will determine the safety of passengers in the unique and extreme environment.

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Springfield, Missouri’s Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium is a tribute to the outdoors

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Here’s a multibillion-dollar American success story that began in the unlikely setting of a small-town liquor store. That’s where, in 1971, Johnny Morris launched his Bass Pro Shops hunting and fishing empire — selling bait and fishing tackle out of the back of his father’s Brown Derby booze shop in Springfield, Missouri.

Most outdoorsmen and women recognize the 200-store Bass Pro Shops chain as home to the largest and most varied selection of hunting, fishing, boating, camping and outdoor-related merchandise available anywhere.

Nearly 200 million people pass through Bass Pro Shops every year and, according to Forbes, the Morris dynasty is worth an estimated $4.4 billion today. The recent $5 billion acquisition of rival retailer Cabela’s almost doubled the size of the company.

More than just an entrepreneurial retailer, Morris, now 71, is also one of America’s most renowned outdoorsmen, and his ultimate vision goes way beyond selling fishing rods, bass boats and shotguns. He is a powerful advocate in support of global environmentalism and conservation.

In 2017, he opened a veritable monument to that vision: Wonders of Wildlife (WOW), a massive $290 million nonprofit natural history museum, aquarium and wildlife attraction that he says “celebrates people who love to hunt, fish, and act as stewards of the land and water.”

Standing adjacent to the Bass Pro Shops headquarters store in Springfield, the WOW complex sprawls over 350,000 square feet and contains 35,000 live fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals as well as thousands of taxidermied animal trophies portrayed in painstakingly crafted dioramas that replicate their natural environments.

Borrowing ideas from the American Museum of Natural History in New York; the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.; and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, WOW claims the title as “world’s largest wildlife attraction.” It’s the top tourist attraction in a six-state region of the Midwest and was named by USA Today as the nation’s “2017 Best New Attraction.”

As a prelude to a 1.5-mile trek through WOW’s scores of natural history dioramas and watery habitats, most visitors browse the cavernous Bass Pro Shops flagship store — the “granddaddy” of them all and second largest only to the Memphis store that occupies a 535,000-square-foot pyramid, originally built as a sports arena.

Bass Pro Shops are a bit like sporting goods museums in their own right, artfully crafted to draw you in — literally — hook, line and sinker. Even before WOW was built, the Springfield store was Missouri’s No. 1 tourist attraction, more popular than the St. Louis arch or the scores of attractions in nearby Branson.

The WOW experience begins with a stroll through a historically reconstructed version of the old Brown Derby liquor store where Morris got his start, followed by a short film that introduces Morris — and the mission behind his museum and aquarium.

Reeling in his fishing line, Morris turns to the camera saying, “There can be no doubt when you study the history from the days of Roosevelt and Audubon on, sportsmen and women, hunters and anglers have really been instrumental in providing the funding and the leadership that has brought back many of the species that we’re so fortunate to enjoy.”

The point Morris makes is a good one. Taxes on hunting and fishing gear and licenses have funded state and federal conservation programs to the tune of tens of billions of dollars since the mid-1930s.

Certainly there are critics who can’t get behind the concept that culling game is good for the environment — but WOW has plenty of powerful and respected partners, including the National Wildlife Federation, the National Audubon Society, Ducks Unlimited, the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the National Geographic Society.

It must be said that WOW does a great job of trying to educate visitors about what happens when hunting and fishing go unregulated. For example, photos from the 1870s show market hunters standing atop mountains of bones and skulls of the American Bison.

The museum fastidiously documents a hard American truth that by the early 1900s our ancestors had driven dozens of wildlife species to the brink of extinction — from buffalo to elk to bighorn sheep — and urges us to stop and think about the fragile nature of our environment.

Entering the wildlife exhibits, the massive scale of Wonders of Wildlife becomes apparent. The Natural History Museum-style animal dioramas that Morris has commissioned are spectacular.

The backdrops are meticulously hand-painted. The beasts strike vivid poses: a herd of caribou surges up the bank of a roiling river and a grizzly bear chases a pack of wolves through an Alaskan tundra scene. The enormous

Africa room is populated with mounted specimens of virtually every animal known to the continent.

WOW’s designers have employed sound, temperature, high-impact lighting and special scents that waft through the various exhibits to recreate the look and feel of ecosystems from around the world — from the Arctic tundra to the savannahs of Africa and the Himalayas to a Florida swamp.

Of less interest to all but avid hunters and anglers — but important to supporting partners — are a number of mini-museums within the complex, including the Boone and Crockett Club’s world-famous National Collection of Heads and Horns, the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum, the Archery Hall of Fame and Museum, and the International Game Fish Association Fishing Hall of Fame.

A café offering an assortment of hot and cold snacks and light meals is conveniently situated between the museum and aquarium and provides a timely break before continuing on to the aquarium.

The transition from static museum exhibits to the live action of 35,000 fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals on the aquarium side is dramatic. Fish, ranging from finger-sized herring to monster sharks, parade in a series of tanks holding 1.5 million gallons of fresh and salt water. Snakes, gators, birds and water-dwelling critters from seven continents go about their daily lives while paying no attention at all to wide-eyed guests staring at them through walls of glass.

Kids of all ages crowd around the tidal-pool tank to fondle horseshoe crabs, starfish and cute, kiddie-sized sharks — and there’s a tank containing five species of visitor-friendly stingrays that seem quite fine with being handled.

Thrill-seekers have an even better option: the Out To Sea Shark Dive — where guests go underwater in a steel cage to be face-to-face with tiger sharks, brown sharks, barracudas and giant groupers — and can even be submerged during feeding time with the Feeding Frenzy option.

An environmentalist credo from Morris, jotted across a painting of a pristine river, ends the visit: “Remember, We All Live Downstream.”

A combo ticket, reasonably priced at $39.95 for adults and $23.95 for children (4-11), provides access to both the wildlife museum and the aquarium. Most visitors will need a full day to explore both sides.

www.wondersofwildlife.org, 888-222-6060.

Handy for visitors in need of lodging, Bass Pro Shops operates a 70-room motel, the Anglers Inn, located just across the street from WOW and the HQ store.

As you’d expect, it has a rustic lodge look and feel and offers such amenities as free parking, complimentary hot breakfast and an indoor pool/gym. Average daily rates range from $100-$160.

www.anglersinn.com, 800-445-5132.

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Small-business owners lukewarm — or worse — on new tax law

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At best, some owners of small firms are lukewarm about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) that Congress passed and President Trump signed. We turn to an April 10 public opinion poll from Businesses for Responsible Tax Reform.

Among 501 small-business owners who were polled March 26-27 across the U.S. who have filed their taxes or are yet to finish their filing, nearly half, or 48%, reported that the new tax law did not make their profits or firms grow. About a quarter, or 24%, said the law caused them harm. Some 19% of respondents said the law positively affected their enterprises.

Of the small-business owners polled, two-thirds approved partially rolling back the 40% tax cut that corporate America received under the TCJA.

Ray Dalio, a hedge-fund billionaire and philanthropist who “60 Minutes” profiled on April 7, weighed in against policies such as the 2017 TCJA (without naming it) in an interview with CBS’ Bill Whitaker.

“Bill Whitaker: So should taxes on people like you be raised?
Ray Dalio: Of course.
Bill Whitaker: You say of course.
Ray Dalio: Of course, one way or another, the important thing is to take those tax dollars and make them productive.
Bill Whitaker: Very, very recently the idea has been that cutting taxes on people like you will promote productivity.
Ray Dalio: Yeah, I — I — that — I — that doesn’t make any sense to me at all — any sense at all.
Bill Whitaker: So, it’s gotta be through taxation?
Ray Dalio: Yes. Am I saying something that’s controversial?
Bill Whitaker: It’s just strange to hear it come from the mouth of a billionaire.”

The thrust of the TCJA of 2017 is supply-side economics. That is the idea that government policy to supply tax cuts to the top tier of wealth holders will, in time, benefit the broader society.

“Lawmakers sold this law as a boon for small businesses and their customer base — the middle class,” said Frank Knapp, Jr., co-chair of Businesses for Responsible Tax Reform and the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “Instead, large corporations — which didn’t need the help in the first place — reaped giant windfalls and just pocketed the cash, and the majority of small business owners have seen no impact, or in some cases, a negative impact.”

Rohit Arora, the CEO of Biz2Credit, an online lending platform, sees the cup as half-full for small businesses under the 2017 TCJA.

“I believe that small business owners, particularly those companies that are formed as C-Corporations, have benefited from the tax cuts,” he told MultiBriefs in an email interview. “Sole proprietorships and S-Corps may not have benefited as much, and that may be what’s reflected in the poll results.”

“It is important to remember that the federal tax break differentiated by the structure of the company, not by the size of the company,” Arora said. “I have seen businesses in a range of industries — hotel/motel, liquor stores, and transportation, for instance — that have benefited from the tax cuts.”

The American Conservative Union Foundation, Economic Policy Institute and National Federation of Independent Business declined requests to comment for this story.

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Travel2020: Stressed sleepers gain no peace on the road

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A global study commissioned by IHG Hotels & Resorts has confirmed that lack of sleep is a primary concern for travelers, with four in five (80%) stating they have trouble sleeping when traveling away from home.

Indeed, the National Sleep Foundation’s annual Sleep in America poll found that only 10% of American adults prioritize their sleep over other aspects of daily living such as fitness/nutrition, work, social life, and hobbies/personal interests.

The findings from the IHG survey revealed:

  • The business traveler loses around 58 minutes of sleep each night when staying away from home, averaging just 5 hours and 17 minutes of sleep.
  • The biggest causes of a restless night’s sleep for those traveling are:
    • Different environment (44%)
    • Unfamiliar noises (35%)
    • Working late (35%)

“It’s no secret that travelling can be challenging for our health, particularly when it comes to maintaining our normal sleep patterns. Light is the major environmental time cue that resets the circadian clock in our brains each day, which is easily thrown off when traveling,” says Dr. Steven W. Lockley, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and advisor to the study.

Image: IHG

IHG is piloting the use of the JOURNI Mobile Task Light, developed by Healthe (also a project in which Dr. Lockley is involved). The item is a dual-spectrum luminaire that helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm or 24-hour internal body clock important in managing biological functions such as sleep, hormone levels, body temperature and metabolism.

IHG is testing various sleep aids within its family of brands. For instance, the Crowne PlazaHotels & Resorts Sleep Advantage Program focuses on bed linens made from 100% cotton for softness. Also, the brand incorporates the “This Works” aromatherapy line of essential oils to help guests recover from the day’s stress and sleep more soundly.

EVEN Hotels highlights the healing and stress-reducing properties of lighting as a way to offer guests a convenient way to keep up with their health and wellness routines on the road. Beyond food and exercise components, the brand offers initiatives that build on the bigger wellness picture, such as plush bedding, aromatherapy amenities, and lighting profiles that energize and relax.

Holiday Inn contributes to the cause with a Pillow Menu. As not all pillows appeal to everyone, the Pillow Menu was introduced at all Holiday Inn locations in the early 2000’s and can be requested at the front desk of the hotel. The menu consists of pillows that aren’t found in the hotel rooms. Rather, they are alternatives for people who have different needs and vary from firmness, as well as type of fill.

The National Sleep Foundation poll found that among U.S. adults with excellent sleep health, nearly 90% say they feel very effective at getting things done each day, compared to only 46% of those with poor sleep health. When asked to prioritize their daily health values, 35% said fitness/nutrition was key, 27% put their work on top, 17% said hobbies/personal interests were most important, 10% said sleep comes first, just ahead of the 9% who prioritized their social life.

A majority of the public (65%) agreed that getting enough sleep makes them more effective, yet 41% admit to rarely taking into account how much sleep they need in planning for the next day.

“This is exactly what I see in my practice every day,” said Dr. Joseph Ojile, Chair of the Foundation’s Board of Directors. “People, from children to adults, are consistently overscheduled. They are not getting enough sleep because they do not block out enough time for it.”

Lost Sleep, Lost Opportunities

Mark Rosekind, Ph.D., a former director of NASA’s Fatigue Countermeasures Program, conducted a study of travelers on trips crossing more than two time zones and lasting two to four days. It revealed some interesting findings and confirmed others, according to a report on WebMD:

  • A few hours of lost sleep combined with business travel significantly reduces performance.
  • Business travelers perceived themselves as performing at a much higher level than they actually did (a 20% drop).
  • Travelers actually performed best during midday, not early morning, which many consider to be prime time for productivity.
  • Of those who rated their performance highly, half fell asleep unintentionally on the trip.
  • Study participants slept, on average, only five hours the night before a trip, the lowest of the entire seven-day monitoring period. But they reported getting an hour more sleep than they actually did. “Any sleep period less than six hours a night begins to significantly diminish performance,” Rosekind said. “Essentially, travelers are at a decreased productivity level before they even walk out their door.”
  • Those who exercised during their trip performed an amazing 61% better than nonexercisers.
  • Study participants registered a total sleep loss of almost eight hours by the time they returned home, the equivalent of one full night’s sleep.

Losing Time, Gaining Time

In general, “losing” time is more difficult to adjust to than “gaining” time. That means that travelers heading east tend to lose time and then gain it again heading west — unless, of course, they are passing the international dateline in the process. Any traveler heading to China, for instance, from Los Angeles will completely lose a day going west and gain a full day back on the L.A. return.

Generally, it takes about one day to adjust for each hour of time change.

While there are plenty of pointers for how to manage sleep on the road, it is never easy, especially when expected to rise and shine from a long-haul flight and face a day of meetings when sleep only came in fits and starts during the many hours of transit.

However, wisdom suggests that exposure yourself to as much light at possible during the waking hours is essential followed by taking care not to be exposed to bright light when it is dark outside. Even the light from a computer screen or turning the light on in the bathroom in the middle of the night can adversely affect a road warrior’s valuable sleep.

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Machines, not workers wanted for Alibaba’s futuristic hotel

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Alibaba, one of the largest e-commerce companies in the world, recently debuted a new hotel prototype in Hangzhou, China, where machines provide the services. Let’s see what Alibaba’s futuristic hotel offers.

The futuristic hotel

The hotel of the future is called FlyZoo. This 290-room property is located in the same city as Alibaba’s headquarters. FlyZoo maximizes guest-machine interactions but minimizes guest-staff interactions.

A more powerful app

Travelers, for example, can book and check-in into a hotel room with the FlyZoo App, as many other hotels have already offered with their apps. WWhat makes the FlyZoo App stand out is that travelers can choose the room they want to stay in, including the floor the room is on and the direction the room is facing.

Possibly because of the country’s strict security controls, mobile check-in is only available to Chinese citizens. Foreign travelers still need to use a kiosk located in the hotel to complete the check-in process.

Facial recognition that enables keyless experience

The hotel also utilizes facial recognition technology throughout the property. Guests can gain easy and secure access to the room and other facilities throughout the hotel without using a keycard.

Tmall Genie as a guest’s personal assistant

Each room is equipped with a voice-activated device called Tmall Genie, similar to Alexa by Amazon. Tmall Genie can help a guest change the room temperature, operate the lights, adjust curtains, control TVs, play music, and answer some simple questions.

Guests can also make requests through Tmall Genie for additional amenities or commercial items, which will be delivered by Alibaba’s robot. This is similar to the Botlr concept launched by Aloft Hotels back in 2014.

Image credit: PhocusWire

Digital workout experience

Today’s travelers want to stay active and healthy even when they are on the road. The FlyZoo Hotel is equipped with digital workout facilities, allowing travelers to have gaming sessions or interactive experiences (with machines or AI) during the workout.

Pack-and-go as needed

When it is time to check out, a guest can proceed with the FlyZoo App, too. Guests are able to enjoy the “pack-and-go” experience in FlyZoo.

Other e-commerce services

Shopping is made easy with the FlyZoo App. When a guest wants to purchase an item (e.g., a piece of furniture) in the hotel, they can also use the FlyZoo App to take pictures of the object and add it to their shopping cart.

Alibaba’s futuristic restaurants and grocery stores

It was just a few months ago when Alibaba introduced a similar “worker-optional” concept for restaurants and grocery stores— the Hema (sounds like “hippo” in Mandarin) Restaurant in Shanghai and Hema Xiansheng (sounds like “hippo fresh” in Mandarin) Store. Today, Alibaba has opened over 100 Hema Xiansheng Stores in China.

Like the FlyZoo Hotel, the Hema Restaurants and Hema Xiansheng Stores utilize mobile apps and robots to maximize consumer-machine interactions while minimizing consumer-staff interactions. Machines will perform most tasks for consumers, including ordering, delivery, and processing payment.

Are there still jobs for humans?

On the one hand, companies want to hire fewer staff members to lower labor costs. On the other hand, machines are now replacing humans in more places. Are there still jobs for humans?

The fact is technology is only going to get more sophisticated and become a bigger part of our lives. It is likely that more jobs will be performed by machines in the near future. Now, it is time for us to think about the big question: What can we do to avoid being replaced by machines?

How about cybersecurity?

From the perspective of cybersecurity, do you have concerns about the safety of customers’ data collected by commercial firms? What regulations must be put in place when companies collect and use consumer data for commercial purposes?

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Visiting energy sites on your travels

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From water wheels to solar power, we are constantly adapting our energy sources in today’s world. Traveling allows you to see where the energy you use every day is produced and where scientists and engineers are studying new methods to produce energy.

Even the old methods of energy production are fascinating. Many areas have museums or tours available to see energy production behind the scenes.

Water wheel at Spring Mill State Park, Indiana. The gristmill for grinding grains is inside!

Hydroelectric Plants

Probably the oldest version of energy comes from the power of water running down a river. You can see their importance in history with many water wheels that powered sawmills or gristmills. These are located throughout the United States.

Water is still an important source of energy. Dams and hydroelectric plants are also located around the country. Some of the bigger plants have tours.

The best tours and museums include the Hoover Dam, the Glen Canyon Dam, and the Niagara Power Project Visitors Center. I found it interesting that electricity is just considered a byproduct of a dam. The main purpose of these dams is to control water flow.

Coal, Natural Gas, and Nuclear Power

Coal mining tours taking you underground can be found in several states, including Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Some of them include guides that used to work the mines.

Before starting our tour at Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine in Pennysylvania.

Power plants using coal, natural gas or nuclear can be found all over the country. Unfortunately, only a few have tours available and these seem to be by appointment only.

Included in these limited tours are a nuclear plant at Duke Energy in North Carolina and the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant Visitor Center in Texas. You may want to check with the local power plant near where you are camping.

Oil

Oil wells are seen along the road in many places throughout the United States. From the beaches of Texas and Louisiana you can see offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Some towns like Odessa, Texas, are all about oil. There are machinery shops, pipe companies, and stores devoted to oil well parts. Interestingly, the town has a lot of chiropractors, physical therapy businesses, and injury law firms. I assume it is a tough business.

Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and California have several oil museums. These museums can give the local history of the oil business along with explaining the geology that leads to oil formations.

Construction of the parabolic trough system in Gila Bend, Arizona.

Solar

While states like Arizona, New Mexico, and Florida have the greatest concentration of solar radiation, solar panels can be seen all over the United States on houses, various buildings, fields, and even RVs!

While solar panels are widespread, other types of solar energy plants exist. Concentrated solar power using parabolic troughs are used in several large plants, including the largest in the US located in Gila Bend, Arizona.

Other large trough types are in Martin County, Florida, the Mojave Desert, and near Las Vegas. Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is a large farm in California where mirrors focus on three central towers and can be seen from the road.

Old English-style windmill at the American Wind Power Museum in Texas.

Wind

We like to watch for wind farms wherever we go. Texas is known for oil, but the state is also home a great many wind turbines. Texas tops the country in wind power capacity followed by Iowa, Oklahoma, California, and Kansas. Wind power tends to be located in the central plains, near oceans, hills, and in other windy locations.

The American Wind Power Museum in Lubbock, Texas is an incredible museum showing both historical windmills used by farmers to pump water and different modern types of wind turbines for power. The Mid-America Windmill Museum in Indiana displays more of the older windmill types.

The Wild Horse Renewable Energy Center in Washington has an excellent museum explaining current wind turbine technology and the operation of a wind farm. The tour even brings you inside the base of a wind turbine. Wear a jacket if you visit. It is windy!

Watch as you drive the United States to see how our energy sources change with geography and over time.

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Travel2020: Travel trends downward as worldwide visits decline, per new surveys

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Annual international visitation to the U.S. began to decline in 2015 — and has yet to stop that trajectory. Concurrently, Americans are traveling less frequently and are returning to attractions less and less, possibly often in search of something new and welcoming.

The results of PGAV Destinations’ fourth annual “Voice of the Visitor: Outlook on the Attractions Industry,which tracks Americans’ travel behavior and forecasts future plans, revealed a dramatic shift in the demographics of attraction visitors, and a deep desire to visit places that make them feel welcome and relaxed.

In the first ever report of its kind, “Welcome! 2019 Profile of International Visitors to America”revealed how travelers from Canada, Mexico, China, the United Kingdom, and Japanplan their trips to America, where they want to visit and what motivates them to do so, and why many have considered a visit to the States but are now holding off until later, possibly for political reasons.

Of the panelists, 68 percent had visited the United States before; but with the exception of Canada, in the other four countries it was noted that more than a third of those populations have never visited the U.S., but are strongly considering it.

Over 85 percent of international guests noted their key priority when visiting America is finding a safe and welcoming place that has a variety of activities and attractions, visiting more than two towns on average with each visit.

“Over the last several years, from the US Council of Mayors to the American Alliance of Museums to the Southeast Tourism Society and beyond, we’ve heard impassioned requests for insights into what international visitors think and what they’re doing when they enter The Melting Pot; and to date, we couldn’t find a precedent,” said PGAV Principal and Chair, Mike Konzen.

“These visitors represent an immense contribution to our economy and share of the tourism industry — and in turn represent America when they return home through their stories and photographs — and it’s imperative we strive to better understand — and welcome — these guests.”

Top 5 Motivators for International Travelers

  • 42%: Shopping
  • 27%: Theme Parks
  • 18%: Historic Landmarks
  • 10%: Museums
  • 10%: Sightseeing Tours

Visting Mickey has remained very popular among international visitors to the U.S.

Top 10 Places Likely to Inspire a Visit to America

  • 36%: Walt Disney World
  • 26%: Disneyland
  • 24%: The Grand Canyon
  • 21%: Statue of Liberty
  • 21%: New York City
  • 20%: Niagara Falls
  • 19%: Las Vegas
  • 19%: Universal Studios
  • 16%: Hollywood
  • 14%: The Northern Lights

When Americans travel, trends suggest that they are seeking more peaceful time with friends and family to relax. Compared to five years ago, Americans say they are “relaxing and chilling out” 27 percent more, playing video games 10 percent less, spending time outdoors 16 percent more, and hanging out with friends 5 percent less.

With more options for entertainment, consumers’ tolerance for bad service and low-fidelity experiences continue to decline, fueling dissatisfaction with the staff and offerings at many attractions.

Top 10 Attraction Types Visited in 2018

  • 38%: Historic Landmarks
  • 33%: Zoos/Animal Attractions
  • 30%: Theaters
  • 30%: Theme Parks
  • 28%: History Museums
  • 27%: National/State Parks
  • 24%: Aquariums
  • 22%: Family Entertainment Centers
  • 21%: Art Museums
  • 21%: Sightseeing Tours

Top 5 Most Important Factors for American Tourists

  • 79%: It’s a good value for the money
  • 78%: It’s a clean place to visit
  • 71%: It has friendly staff members
  • 70%: It provides a safe and wholesome environment
  • 69%: It’s a diverse experience with a lot of different things to see and do

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Airbnb acquires HotelTonight amid transition to a travel enterprise

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Airbnb made headlines again last week. The company is set to acquire HotelTonight, an online travel agent (OTA) that focuses on last-minute bookings through its website or a mobile app for hotel stays.

Why is HotelTonight good for Airbnb?

Even though Airbnb is commonly known for its dominant position in the room-sharing market, the company has been aiming to become a massive travel enterprise. Besides hotels, Airbnb also competes directly with OTAs.

For example, Airbnb has begun selling hotel rooms. At the time Airbnb celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2018, there were over 24,000 boutique hotels listed on Airbnb, a growth of 520 percent over the previous year.

According to The Wall Street Journal, adding more hotels to Airbnb listings has become a key strategy to boost growth before the company’s initial public offering (IPO). Through the acquisition of an existing business — HotelTonight, Airbnb can gain immediate market penetration in the OTA market. This will likely allow Airbnb to add more hotel listings to its platform.

How much is the deal?

Started in 2010, HotelTonight has already raised about $117 million in venture capital and made the Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startup list in 2016. In 2017, HotelTonight had a valuation of $463 million with estimated revenue of around $60 million the year before.

According to Skift, this acquisition closed at a value of a little bit over $400 million, with about half in cash and the other half in stock. Because half of the acquisition cost is made up of Airbnb’s stock, HotelTonight could have “a nice little exit” under the condition that Airbnb’s stock price will increase when it goes public, as most people expect, even though Airbnb has not yet committed to doing so in 2019.

Last year, Airbnb had a value ranging from $22 billion to $50 billion, as estimated by Skift Research. Airbnb’s estimated revenue in 2017 was at $2.6 billion.

What’s next for HotelTonight and Airbnb?

While HotelTonight and Airbnb will maintain their operations as two separate entities, Airbnb suggested it would include some HotelTonight listings as part of the company’s larger platform in the future.

Therefore, it won’t be surprising to see more hotel listings added to Airbnb’s website soon. Likewise, it is also possible for HotelTonight to add Airbnb listings as part of its offerings, similar to what Expedia and Booking.com have been doing.

Where is the competition among Airbnb, hotels, and OTAs heading?

The battle among these three key players in the lodging industry is only going to heat up even more, especially when they are all selling the same products now. For example:

  • Airbnb will soon add more hotels to its listings with the acquisition of HotelTonight, in addition to its recent inductions of Airbnb Plus and Beyond by Airbnb, its certified product types that provide similar hotel amenities.
  • Hotels, such as Marriott and Hyatt, have also entered the room-sharing market; they are selling residential rentals, too, as Airbnb does.
  • Also, through acquisitions (e.g., Expedia acquired HomeAway.com for $3.9 billion in 2015), many OTAs invested big in room-sharing business. Travelers can now book residential homes on OTA websites. Coincidentally, Booking.com and Airbnb were fighting for the title of the website with the most room-sharing listings last week.

Is acquiring HotelTonight a good deal for Airbnb? Why or why not? What will be Airbnb’s next move towards a travel enterprise?

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10 US dark-sky parks worth a visit

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Since the dawn of time, the mysteries and splendors of a starry night sky have been filling us with wonder. As Vincent van Gogh once said, “I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”

Today, however, when we look up into our galaxy from most areas of the country, we are lucky to see but a handful of stars.

Light pollution — the rampant and careless spread of artificial light — is laying ruin to one of nature’s most profound spectacles — a star-filled nighttime sky.

Fortunately, there’s a group of dedicated conservationists who are trying to preserve our view of the heavens and protect this natural resource for present and future generations. Founded in 1988 by a pair of astronomers, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that is doing all it can to limit light pollution worldwide.

IDA’s principal approach is to raise awareness about the value of dark, star-filled night skies and encourage their protection and restoration through education about the problems and solutions, including outdoor lighting practices that create less light pollution.

The main thrust of IDA’s efforts is their International Dark Sky Program, through which they provide a certified designation to communities, parks and public lands “possessing exceptional starry skies and natural nocturnal habitat where light pollution is mitigated and natural darkness is valuable as an important educational, cultural, scenic and natural resource.” There are currently 109 such certified sites worldwide — 69 of them in the United States. Arizona and Utah host the world’s highest concentration of dark sky parks.

To mark IDA’s International Dark Sky Week — March 31-April 7 — here are 10 of the nation’s finest stargazing spots:

Death Valley is one of the nation’s most famous national parks and is a dark-sky park as well.

Death Valley National Park, California

Death Valley’s natural darkness, along with National Park Service actions to reduce excessive outdoor lighting, led the IDA to designate the park as an International Dark Sky Park in 2013.

Covering 3,336,000 acres, it is the largest park in the worldwide network. Choice spots for stargazing include Harmony Borax Works, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and Badwater Basin. During winter and spring seasons, park rangers offer night sky programs. www.nps.gov/deva.

Oracle State Park, Arizona

A 4,000-acre state park and wildlife refuge situated in the northern foothills of the Catalina Mountains, Oracle was designated a Dark Sky Park in 2014. It hosts occasional stargazing events as part of Arizona State Park’s popular Star Night Party Program. www.azstateparks.com/oracle.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

No doubt America’s most famous Dark Sky Park, Grand Canyon is notable for the beauty of its dark night skies and clean air — but it took a dedicated effort on the part of the National Park Service and its concessionaires to cut down on light pollution, particularly from the formerly brightly lit Grand Canyon Village.

That was accomplished through the installation of dark-sky-friendly lighting throughout the village. Most viewpoints along both the North and South Rim offer great stargazing opportunities.

Serious astrotourists should plan to visit the park during the 2019 Grand Canyon Star Party, June 22-29. This event brings in volunteer astronomers who offer free nightly astronomy programs and telescope viewing. www.nps.gov/grca.

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

This tiny state park, not far from Moab, perches 2,000 feet above a remote gooseneck in the Colorado River, where it affords dramatic views of the southern skies. It was certified as a Dark Sky Park in 2016.

Kayenta Campground provides a peaceful respite from the surrounding desert, and hiking trails lead directly from the campground to the park’s favorite stargazing points on the East and West Rim. Park staff members routinely offer programs celebrating the night sky, from star parties to ranger-led full-moon hikes. www.stateparks.utah.gov/parks/dead-horse.

The dark sky viewed through a picturesque rock formation at Canyonlands National Park.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Practically next door to Dead Horse Point State Park is dramatic Mesa Arch, an iconic landmark of Canyonlands National Park and a popular backdrop for astrophotographers. Canyonlands’ relative isolation from the artificial light of urban areas makes it an ideal place for viewing the night sky.

Here, even the naked eye is sufficient to witness a wealth of stars and, under the right conditions, common binoculars may reveal the rings of Saturn. Rangers often set up telescopes for the public at Grand View Point in the Island in the Sky area, as well as at the Needles Visitor Center in the southern sector of the park. www.nps.gov/cany.

Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

Craters of the Moon, a vast and remote area of volcanic formations and lava flows in southwest Idaho, was designated a Dark Sky Park in 2017. This was logical in a sense because it is the only national park or monument named after a celestial body.

The Idaho Falls Astronomical Society hosts star parties each spring and fall, setting up telescopes in the Cave Area parking lot. The park also offers ranger-led full moon hikes. www.nps.gov/crmo.

Norwood, Colorado

Following three years of hard work on the part of a small team of volunteer amateur astronomers in Norwood, the IDA designated their wee town of 580 residents as the nation’s newest Dark Sky Community on Feb. 21, 2019.

It is the first community on the Western Slope of Colorado to be so designated and only the second in the state. The town’s remote location and sparse population produce very little light pollution and its clear high desert skies combine to make Norwood a perfect stargazing location. The local team, Norwood Dark Sky Advocates, is planning dark-sky events aimed at attracting astro-enthusiasts. www.colorado.edu/norwood-stars/.

Image: Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Michigan

This 600-acre parcel of old-growth forest sits on more than two miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline at the northwest tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Developed and operated by Emmet County, the park features a newly built waterfront event and observation center where free, monthly dark sky programs and other astronomy-related special events are staged. www.midarkskypark.org

Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania

The densely populated eastern United Sates may not be known for wide-open spaces and dark skies, but this Pennsylvania park is an exception and it stands out as one of the country’s most popular Dark Sky Parks.

Surrounded by 262,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest, the 82-acre Cherry Springs preserve boasts a dedicated astronomy observation field that offers unobstructed views of the heavens and is open to the public all night. Privately organized stargazing events and photography workshops are available, and a big star party is set for May 30-June 2, 2019. www.cherryspringsstatepark.com

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, Florida

Part of the Everglades headwaters, Kissimmee Prairie is a vast 54,000-acre expanse of grassland — the largest remaining tract of Florida dry prairie.

Located about 100 miles south of light-polluted Orlando and its gaggle of theme parks, this remote preserve is internationally acclaimed for its inky black night sky. The park features purpose-built astronomy pads dedicated to observing the night sky at nine different viewing locations. www.floridastateparks.org.

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