Three American cities are barring employees from traveling to North Carolina. Itâ€™s the latest evidence of a spreading backlash over a new law allowing discrimination against LGBT people in the state.
People protest outside the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C., on Thursday. (Emery P. Dalesio/AP)San Francisco MayorÂ EdÂ Lee on FridayÂ said he is banning city employees from traveling toÂ North CarolinaÂ onÂ publicÂ businessÂ afterÂ the state passed a lawÂ limitingÂ transgender rights.
â€œWe are standing united as San Franciscans to condemn North Carolinaâ€™s new discriminatory law that turns back the clock on protecting the rights of all Americans including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals,â€ Lee said in a statement. â€œEffective immediately, I am directing City Departments under my authority to bar any publicly-funded City employee travel to the State of North Carolina that is not absolutely essential to public health and safety.â€
The law, passed this week, bars local governments from extending civil rights protections to gay and transgender people and bans transgender people from using public bathrooms according to their gender identity.
â€œThe NBA is dedicated to creating an inclusive environment for all who attend our games and events,â€ it said in a statement. â€œWe are deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter to our guiding principles of equality and mutual respect and do not yet know what impact it will have on our ability to successfully host the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte.â€
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) used the law as an opportunity to promoteÂ his own state.
Lee suggested that he would issue a similar travel ban to Georgia if it passes a religious liberty bill similar to an Indiana bill last year that elicited a similar travel ban:Â â€œWith other states like Georgia on the verge of passing more discriminatory laws, let me be clear that San Francisco taxpayers will not subsidize legally-sanctioned discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in any City or State.â€
North Carolinaâ€™s Republican-controlled legislature passed the law in response to a Charlotte ordinance, which would have expanded civil rights protections to individuals on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. That ordinance also would have allowed transgender people to use bathrooms aligned with their gender identity.
â€œThe basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room, for each gender was violated by government overreach and intrusion by the mayor and city council of Charlotte,â€ Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said in a statement. â€œâ€¦ As a result, I have signed legislation passed by a bipartisan majority to stop this breach of basic privacy and etiquette which was to go into effect April 1.â€
The Georgia legislature elicited a similarly strong response after it passed a religious liberty billÂ earlier this month. Proponents say the bill, which allows religious organizations to deny the use of facilities for â€œobjectionableâ€ purposes, merely protects religious rights. Opponents say itÂ enshrines anti-gay discrimination.
Hundreds ofÂ corporations, including Disney, Marvel, Time Warner, the National Football League, Delta, Coca-Cola, Google and others have voiced varying degrees of opposition to that measure, some going as far as promisingÂ to moveÂ business out of state if the governor signs the bill into law.
Understandably, anybody with plans to travel to Europe in the near future is probably thinking twice about hopping on a plane right about now, especially after the State Department issued a travel alert for the continentÂ earlier this week. “U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using mass transportation,” according to the March 22 advisory, which also advised keeping your wits about you at festivals, religious gatherings, and sporting events.
Obviously, an utterly carefree spring fling by Eurail passÂ is out of the question at this point. The Brussels airport remains closed, and authorities report that extremists involved in the recent attacks may still be at large; meanwhile, the investigation has widened to France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Time to cancel a trip to northern Europe? What if your plans take to you the U.K., Spain or another country in the region? We talked to Leslie Overton, managing director of luxury tour operator Absolute Travel, how to make your travels as safe as possible during tense times in Europe.
Check your travel insurance.Â If you have travel insurance, which you shouldÂ says Overton,Â an airport that is closed usually is grounds for coverage, says Overton. Some insurance plans have clauses about terrorism, so it will depend on the policy. Even if you’re not covered by insurance, airlines, hotels, and even restaurants will probably do their best to beÂ accommodating. “Nobody wants to harm their own tourism industry in the future. The airlines are going to be as proactive as possible in terms of rerouting you, getting you another ticket. Airlines are not great at saying, ‘Here’s a full refund.’ But usually they’ll give you a voucher or let you rebook.”
Wait, you bought travel insurance, didn’t you?Â “Insurance is very important,” emphasizes Overton.Â It will cover you if something happens and you need to get to safety andÂ get home. Overton works frequently withÂ Global Rescue, whichÂ provides security and risk management for travelers. They do security briefings, monitor the situation, and will evacuate you if you need help. It’s a pricy option, though.
Register your trip.Â The State DepartmentÂ has a website where you can do this. You’ll receive their updates and alerts if the security situation changes in any of the destinations you’re going to. That also means the State Department knows where you are going to be if there’s an emergency situation on the ground, they will know how to reach out to you.
Make sure your phone works abroad.Â Overton uses T-Mobile, which operates in more than 100 countries. “It’s as easy as just turning your phone back on when you land,” says Overton.Â If you have another carrier and are a little more cost-conscious, you may want to buy a local SIM card when you arrive. That will change your phone number for the period that card is in your phone, soÂ make sure to immediately let everybody know your new number.
Make sure your loved ones know your plans. Always leave behind a copy of your itinerary, let people know if your plans change, and leave behind either a hard copy or a scan of your passport. If your passport is lost or stolen, it’s a lot easier issue a new one if you have a copy of the original. And it will also make it a lot easier if there’s an emergency situation for your relatives to say to the authorities, here’s your documentation.”
Be vigilant, not terrified.Â “The State Department did not tell people not to travel, it was advice to take caution when you’re traveling,” says Overton. It’s something most regular travelers are already doing, she notes: “It’s pretty much a fancified version of ‘if you see something, say something.'” If your immediate plans includes Brussels, you might consider changing them. “The situation is evolving, the airport is still closed. And like in Nepal after the earthquake, you don’t necessarily want to jump in right away if they’re still handling a crisis. They need to use their resources to assist their own people. However, for the rest of Europe, I would say that if you want to travel there, you should feel as safe as you would anywhere else.”
Follow your gut.Â Travelâ€”at least for vacationâ€”should be about enjoyment and exploration, so if you’re uncomfortable, then it might not be worth it. “If you’re going to be nervous in that setting and it’s going to ruin the experience, then don’t do it.” On the other hand, if you’re a soccer fan and you’re in Europe to see a match, or in Italy to see the churches, that’s going to be the highlight of your trip. “It’s hard to tell people to stay away from that,” says Overton. ” JustÂ be sure to keep your eyes and ears open.”
Think back to those summer road trips with your parents, or those family reunions out in the boondocks. How many family trips have you taken in your lifetime? Have you traveled with extended family? How about with children? Every family travel experience is different, but one pattern that seems to resurface is the travel industry’s lack of preparedness when accommodating families. Even though family travel is projected to be at an all time high this year (70 percent of Americans are expected to travel for leisure in 2016, which is up from 66 percent in 2015), the industry has a long way to go before it makes travel easy on families.
Vacations for many families are hard on the budget, stressful to plan for, taxing during transportation and not always what they are expected to be. In order to combat some of these obstacles, family travelers have started some new trends. Ninety-three percent of families surveyed in a Family Travel Association study were either “very likely” or “likely” to travel with their children in the next two years. Families are now traveling in larger groups with friends and their children. Vacations are being taken throughout the year, not just during spring and summer breaks. Grandparents and extended families are joining trips as well. In order to accommodate these trends, the industry needs to make some changes.
Vacations Don’t Need to be Big Monetary Investments
Families are always looking for affordable alternatives to the typical expensive vacation itinerary, but they also want to make sure they are providing the best possible experience. Unfortunately, the average trip for a family of four costs $4,580. That isn’t something a family can swing every few months. Affordability is the most prominent challenge for family travel. While it mainly affects middle to low income families, nearly every family sees this as a concern. By changing priorities and implementing new profit models to accommodate emerging family travel trends, the travel industry and the companies within it could see a sizable influx of families enjoying their services.
Planning Family Trips Should be Fun and Hassle-Free
With more and more resources out there for families to use to plan their vacations, it should be easier than ever to get an itinerary put together. This is not the case. With the increased access to information, also came the access to false information. Now families are having to wade through Internet muck to figure out what is legitimate and trustworthy, and what isn’t. Organizations like the Family Travel Association have tried to mitigate the problems that families have encountered due to unreliable information by vetting various travel sites and posting helpful articles on relevant topics. More sites dedicated to family travel options and current news would go a long way in encouraging travel. Rainer Jenss, the Founder and President of the Family Travel Association also suggested “travel agents who work with families need to continue to improve their understanding of family needs, starting with asking the right questions and also educating themselves on what’s available for families.”
Transportation Should Not be a Nightmare
Baggage fees, limited and expensive accommodations for young children, and little flexibility for letting kids stretch legs during long flights are just a few things that have turned families off of flying to their destination. Even a cup of milk for a thirsty infant is hard to come by. The problem is that airlines treat families like everyone else, which adds extra strain on unprepared or already-stressed parents. Families often have to buy pre-boarding tickets to make sure they get seats together. (This is unfortunately a typical problem with U.S. carriers, whereas international airlines have a better track record.) Some U.S. carriers simply can’t afford to offer niceties, such as snacks for kids or supplies to help them if they get sick. It is because of these hassles that the majority of families opt for road trips, instead of trips that require flights.
In 2008 Kari Dilloo, communications manager for what was then Bing Travel, took her twins (3-months old at the time), on an hour and a half flight from Seattle to Salt Lake City. After spending months planning the trip, Kari was met with such little support from the airline and other passengers that she chose to take her family on road trips from then on. “I already had low expectations,” Kari said. “But they dropped even more.” She noted that if there was an airline that catered specifically to families, she would fly them, but she has yet to hear of one.
If airlines worked to accommodate families better by guaranteeing that they would be able to sit together and planned to have extra provisions on board to assist in keeping children occupied and happy, families would be flying much more often.
Finding Comfortable Accommodations Shouldn’t Make You Squirm
Up until recently, hotels had a monopoly on travel accommodations. Travelers were forced to choose between myriad rooms that all looked the same. The only information available about the hotels was found on the hotel website or from reviews that may or may not have been sponsored by the hotel. Families found themselves in lodgings that didn’t hold up to expectation but had to make due nonetheless.
Luckily, gone are the days when the only lodging option for a family was a hotel suite. Now, with companies like HomeExchange, Airbnb and others, families can easily connect with like-minded home-owners around the world and find suitable accommodations, including affordable full sized condos or homes. “Residence-like accommodations are increasingly popular with families,” Caroline Shin, travel expert and CEO and Chief Vacation Officer of Vacatia says, “because they offer the bedroom space needed as well as kitchens to prepare affordable meals.” Resort condos with multiple rooms and kitchens are also very popular since they come with concierge service and other hotel-like amenities.
Families need better options in order to have stress-free and memorable travel experiences. The sharing economy has prompted solutions to the problems that families have encountered. Social platforms found on home sharing sites allow people to get their questions answered before booking. Parents now weigh the worth of discounted tickets to SeaWorld offered by a crowded hotel against the “home-away-from-home” experience they’d have at a shared residence. Driveways or quiet streets are chosen over expensive parking garages or lack thereof at city hotels. Shared cars are more affordable than rental cars and are just as reliable. Kitchens and dining rooms are preferred by families more often than restaurant dining, which saves money and late night tantrums. The sharing economy is currently the driving force behind stress-free family travel and if the rest of the travel industry wants to get in on this action, all it has to do is get on board.
About the author:
Jim Pickell is President of HomeExchange.com, an advisor, angel investor, and frequent guest lecturer. Previously, Pickell founded several companies including OpenEnglish.com, Latin America’s leading online language school, and served as Senior Vice President of SONY Connect in L.A., where he led the digital distribution of films, music, and eBooks. His later quest to collaborate with like-minded thinkers and create ideas that influence positive change led him to HomeExchange.com, first as a member and now as a core part of what he calls “a 23-year-old startup.” Pickell is a member of the board of the Family Travel Association and an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at the Argyros School of Business and Economics. He holds a degree in economics from UC Berkeley, a law degree from Loyola Law School, and an MBA from the Anderson School at UCLA.
The attack in Brussels are adding to already softening travel to Europe.Â (AP)
Tuesdayâ€™s deadly coordinated terror attacks in Brussels have some thinking twice about a summer trip to Europe.
Travel firm Thomas Cook today said that its overall summer bookings are lower than this time last year with just 40 percent of the summer season sold– due in part to unrest in Europe.Â
And in the wake of Novemberâ€™s attacks, bookings to France have dropped between 8 and 10 percent from the year before according to the airfare prediction app Hopper. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
â€œPeople are still trying to figure out if it makes sense to visit Europe or go to an alternate place. The combination of the terror attacks and the instability caused by the migrant crisis is causing a lot of uncertainty,â€ said Patrick Surry, chief data scientist for Hopper.
Surry notes that overall interest to Europe, defined by Internet searches on its site, is currently down about 13 percent for 2016 to date compared to 2015 during the same period, due to increased terror activity and the migrant crisis.
â€œI’d expect it to persist through the summer since people are starting to make summer travel plans now and it seems like various negative coverage will continue to influence travelers.â€
For Americans currently in Europe or elsewhere in the world, the State Department is warning citizen use extra precautions. â€œU.S. citizens continue to be at risk of kidnappings and hostage events as ISIL, al-Qaâ€™ida, and their affiliates attempt to finance their operations through kidnapping-for-ransom operations,â€ it said in a statement.
Authorities say that Brussels Airport will stay closed until at least Wednesday afternoon local time. Eurostar trains to Brussels have been canceled for the time being and Britainâ€™s Heathrow Airport is beefing up security measures, citing it as one of the major gateways for European travel.
â€œIn the light of events in Brussels airport, we are working with the police at Heathrow who are providing a high-visibility presence,â€ a statement from Heathrow said.
But Timothy Horner, managing director of Kroll, the international security risk management firm which helps to assess risk around the globe, says that while Americans should be vigilant, they shouldnâ€™t cancel their plans.
â€œWe need to understand the risk in that location and prepare for it,â€ Kroll says. â€œIt doesnâ€™t mean people shouldnâ€™t travel, but it does become a personal decision. There should be pre-planning. Travelers should show commonsense and be observant. Book direct flights. Have fewer layovers and stay away from places with crowds.â€
The Brussels bomb blasts, just the latest in a string of terror attacks in Europe, has put a damper on what was looking to be a good time to visit Europe. The strength of the U.S. dollar against the euro means that your dollar can go father.Â Also, falling jet fuel prices are finally starting to push down the price of airline tickets.Â And, due to sites like Airbnb, accommodations are affordable.Â
And with its friendly locals and fine beer and chocolate, Brussels has long been a popular destination for Americans.
But Europeâ€™s unrest has some considering other destinations, says Surray.
â€œDemand is up in Latin America and Australia. Of course the (Rio) Olympics is a draw, so it’s hard to be too definitive, but it looks like people are for substituting non-European international travel,â€ he says.
Growth in middle-class income in China and elsewhere has helped add 7.2 million jobs in the travel and tourism industries worldwide, contributing $7.2 trillion to the gross domestic product.
The glowing assessment of job growth in the travel and tourism industries came from an annual report by the World Travel and Tourism Council, a London-based nonprofit that researches the global effectÂ of tourism.
The report said travel and tourism spending grew by 3.1%, contributing 9.8% to global GDP. The industries now support 284 million jobs, an increase of 7.2 million, according to the tourism council.
The worldwide increase in travel spending was helped, in part, by a 53% increase in outbound travel spending from China in 2015, for a total of $215 billion, the tourism council said.
Meanwhile, the strong U.S. dollar helped increase travel to favorite destination for U.S. vacationers, including Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Spending by U.S. travelers venturing abroad grew 6.3% in 2015, while spending by foreign visitors to Canada grew 8.5% and increased 28.9% to Mexico, the World Travel and Tourism Council reported.
â€œTravel Tourism has been performing well in the majority of the economies in the Americas, with the U.S. dollar being a big driver,” said David Scowsill, president and chief executive of the tourism council. “There is a huge potential for countries to tap into the growing number of U.S. tourists traveling abroad because of their strong currency.”
To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow Hugo Martin on Twitter at@hugomartin.
The Obama family will be taking in the sightsÂ of Cuba this week â€” and soon, you could do the same. Just before the presidentâ€™s plane touched down in Havana for a historic visit,Â his administration announced that it will allow travelers from around the world to visit Cuba through Airbnb.
In the past year, more than 13,000 Americans have stayed in Airbnbs in Cuba, making the country the companyâ€™s fastest-growing market. Thatâ€™s surprising, considering that only 4Â percent of Cubans had access to the Internet when Airbnb launched there and the service is run completely online. Lucky for Airbnb, it was already fairly common for localÂ travel agentsÂ to connect foreigners to CubansÂ who wanted to rent out their homes. By enlisting those travel agents in itsÂ cause, Airbnb was able to quickly get a foothold in a market becoming more competitive each month. Just this week, Starwood HotelsÂ announced that it wouldÂ become the first U.S. hotel company in more than 50 years to operate in Cuba.Â It intends to transform three Havana hotels into Starwood hotels, including a â€œFour Points by Sheraton.â€
Though Airbnb seems to be more expensive than going directly to Cuban homeowners, the rooms are relatively cheap compared withÂ those in major U.S. cities.Â On Sunday, the average cost of a private room was $38 per night, $82 per night for an entire home and $19 per night for a shared room. Hereâ€™s a glimpse of what the lodgings have to offer:
Review:Â â€œWe must admit to feelings of trepidation being one of the first airbnbers to go to Cuba, not knowing what to expect. But the pictures of Casa Densil looked beautiful, so we took the plunge. And what a wonderful experience we had.â€
Review: â€œRoberto and his wife are the best. Theyâ€™ll prepare breakfast for you at any time of the morning and can recommend any number of excursions. The rooms are clean, water runs hot, and the air conditioning is great.â€
Health authorities with the help of the Cuban army fumigate against the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of zika, chikungunya and dengue in a street of Havana, on Feb. 23.The Zika virus is now being transmitted from mosquitoes to people in Cuba, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday, marking another advance in a worrying epidemic potentially linked to a wide range of birth defects and neurological disorders.The travel advisory comes on the eve of President Obama’s historic visit to the island nation. Hundreds of staff members, reporters, business leaders and members of Congress were expected to travel with the president.
The CDC recommended that pregnant women avoid traveling to Cuba, adding the country to a long list of countries and territories listed in earlier advisories. The CDC also cautioned other travelers to Cuba, which lies less than 100 miles south of Florida, to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, including protecting themselves from mosquito bites and using condoms or abstaining from sex. The virus can be sexually transmitted from a male partner.
Some three dozen nations and territories in the Americas are grappling with local transmission of Zika, including the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Aruba. On March 8, the World Health Organization joined with the CDC in advising pregnant women to avoid areas where the Zika virus is actively spreading.
Scientists have not developed a vaccine or treatment for Zika.
Nearly all cases in the continental United States have been limited to infected travelers who brought the virus back home from Latin America or other regions. But based on the spread of previous outbreaks, the CDC estimates that 700,000 people in Puerto Rico â€“ about one in five residents â€“ could be infected by Zika virus by the end of this year.
Back in America, Khweis’ travel to Iraq to join ISIS is being investigated by the FBI, according to law enforcement officials.
Authorities expect to seek his return to the United States to face criminal charges, the officials said. Investigators are trying to to verify his account of the journey.
Investigators are concerned that the first time they knew Khweis had traveled to join jihadists was after his capture, law enforcement officials said. His family had not told law enforcement of any concerns — if they had any — after he left the United States in December, according to the officials.
In his interview with Kurdistan24, Khweis did not speak much about his life in America. He said he studied criminal justice in Virginia. He occasionally attended mosques. In December, he left for London, then Amsterdam. He later stopped in Turkey, where he met a young woman.
She invited him to Syria. Some time later they arrived in Raqqa, now the capital of ISIS’ self-declared caliphate. At some point, he said, the couple was split up and he ended up with a team of ISIS fighters.
Along the way, Khweis said he spent time at a house where ISIS kept foreign jihadists. The foreigners were ordered to hand over their ID and passports and take a Bay’ah, or oath of allegiance to ISIS, he said.
Later, at another house, Khweis said he met more foreigners — from Asia, Russia, Uzbekistan and other countries. Each man was given a nickname. Khweis was called Abu Omar. After a transfer to yet another house, he was joined by at least 70 other foreigners.
The Islamist extremist group has taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria, and it has staged attacks elsewhere. It has done so with recruits from not only the Middle East, but other places, including Western countries such as the United States.
Last summer, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence reported that more than 25,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria, affiliating themselves with various groups to fight or support the conflict there. They came from more than 100 countries.
More than 250 ISIS fighters in Syria are Americans, according to the director of National Intelligence. Khweis said he did not meet one American during his journey.
Khweis told Kurdish television that he was eventually transferred to Mosul, a 10-hour ride in a packed van.
He described life during his monthlong stay in Mosul as “really, really bad.”
“There was an imam, who taught us … the Sharia, and the religion,” Khweis said. “I didn’t complete the whole Sharia. I didn’t agree with their ideology. That’s when I wanted to escape.”
Daily life centered on prayer and hours of religious education.
“It was pretty hard to live in Mosul,” Khweis told Kurdistan24. “It’s not like the Western countries. You know, it’s very strict. There’s no smoking.”
Khweis found someone to deliver him close to Turkish border.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces apprehended him on Monday near Sinjar “for attempting to enter the Kurdistan region from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul,” according to a statement from Kurdistan Regional Security Council.
“I wanted to go to the Kurd side because I know that they’re good with the Americans,” Khweis said.
U.S. officials said this week a man walked out of ISIS-held territory and approached troops in the same area.
Kurdish soldiers, evidently fearing he could be a suicide bomber, fired shots at the man before he said he wanted to turn himself in, according to the U.S. official.
Khweis said he is happy with the decision to surrender.
“My message to the American people is the life in Mosul, it’s really, really bad,” he said. “The people … controlling Mosul don’t represent the religion … I don’t see them as good Muslims.”