Online Travel Update: Expedia Partner Solutions offers carbon neutral hotel stays; traditional offline travel management companies offer new technologies; Amazon ads target travel companies | Foster Garvey PC


Traditional Offline Travel Management Companies Offer New Technologies
(“TMCs Unveil Tech Enhancements at GBTA,” November 17, 2021 via Business Travel News)
(CWT Plans $100 Million Technology Investment,” November 16, 2021 via Phocus Wire)
Last week, two stories detailed investments being made by some the largest traditional offline travel companies into new travel technology. At last week’s Global Business Travel Association’s Convention, travel management companies, BCD Travel, Corporate Travel Management and TripActions, announced new technologies focused on risk management and trip disruption. The new mobile application, passenger notifications and risk-based trip approval system are all designed to address clients’ COVID-induced travel risk, security and well-being concerns. Separately, CWT – fresh off its one-day Chapter 11 bankruptcy — announced plans to invest $100 million in its myCWT travel management platform, which include improvements to its online hotel booking experience.

Amazon Ads Targets Travel Companies
Amazon Ads Wants to Help Travel Outfits by Sharing its Customers’ Buying Habits,” November 17, 2021 via Skift Travel News) (subscription may be required)
Over the past 18 months, Amazon’s advertising business (Amazon Ads) has been targeting travel and hospitality industry businesses. The new ad program allows customers to leverage Amazon’s wealth of customer data (think Prime members purchasing luggage tags or travel guides) to deliver targeted ads to users of Amazon’s many platforms (including Alexa).


Other news:

Wyndham Hotels Signs Distribution Deal With Trip.com
November 18, 2021 via Hotel Management – Hotel news
More than 9,000 hotels globally operated by Wyndham Hotels and Resorts can now be searched and booked on Trip.com after the two parties signed a comprehensive distribution agreement to sell the hotel’s inventory across its family of websites.

TravelBank Acquired by U.S. Bancorp
November 17, 2021 via Phocus Wire
TravelBank will become part of the U.S. Bancorp portfolio of businesses following an acquisition announced last week. Details of the deal have not been disclosed. U.S.-based TravelBank, a member of the PhocusWire Hot 25 Travel Startups for 2020 collection, is a travel and expenses management platform.

Green Travel: Booking Holdings Launches a New Sustainability Badge for Accommodations
November 16, 2021 via Yahoo Finance – Top Stories
Glenn Fogel, Booking Holdings CEO, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the travel company’s new feature to help consumers find hotels and accommodations that are implementing sustainability practices.

Welcome to the Hot 25 Startups for 2022
November 15, 2021 via Phocus Wire
PhocusWire presents the Hot 25 Travel Startups for 2022 – the annual list of new companies in travel, tourism and hospitality that they think will make a mark next year.



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Cellphone ‘Survival Tip’ Is False According To Phone Companies 


While it sounds like a great idea, phone companies say a viral “tip” is bogus.

Mainers can find themselves without cell service pretty regularly in the woods. This is partially why a “survival tip” blew up on social media. The claim was if you were to be lost or in dire circumstances, you could update your voicemail with your whereabouts, even without cell service. On premise, it seemed like it would actually work and be useful if one were to get lost. The tip, however, has been proven false.

According to AP News, you need service or a data connection to update your voicemail. Numerous cellphone providers confirmed to the Associated Press, including Verizon and T-Mobile, cell service or a form of data connection like wifi is needed. Before adventuring deep into the woods updating your voicemail with where you’re going, when you plan to be back, and who you’re with is a good idea. Just make sure to have service.

Mainers who spend time hiking, hunting, or fishing in the woods, know-how spotty cell coverage can be. It stresses the importance of basic survival skills, which can be life-saving. Hunter education courses teach basic skills and require building a small survival kit, packed with essential items. Compass work is also a component of these classes, including calculating magnetic declination.

Recently The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife shared fall safety tips for those spending time in the woods. You can read more below.

True Events That Happened In Maine That Should Be Made Into Horror Movies

From time to time you see a local headline that reads like the synopsis to a horror movie. Maine has seen its fair share of grizzly murders, ghost stories, and possible proof of cryptid beats in the woods. While some stories may be hard to prove true, their basis is believable enough to live in infamy in local folklore. Here are five movie-grade events that happened in Maine that we’d watch if turned into a horror flick.





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business trip

Can Companies Factor Physical & Mental Disabilities Into the Business Travel Equation?


Navigating a crowded airport terminal to catch a connecting
flight can be a stressful situation for any traveler, but for Paul Corgel, it
can be especially challenging. Corgel who is legally blind and has 90 percent
vision loss due to multiple ocular conditions, often must resort to taking
pictures of departure boards and signage on his smartphone and then zooming in
on the image to read them. 

That’s just one of the strategies and workarounds Corgel has
developed to help him manage the challenges he faces while traveling regularly
in his role as an emergency management specialist with the Federal Emergency
Management Agency—a schedule that includes rapid-deployment disaster response
trips requiring him to be at a particular location on just 48 hours’ notice.

“I’ll try to take a quick picture and zoom in on my
phone so I know I’m heading in the right direction and I’m not spending a
couple of hours running around an airport and ultimately winding up at the
wrong gate and missing my flight,” said Corgel. 

The FEMA disaster management specialist was one of several frequent
business travelers with physical or mental health conditions who recently shared
their experiences and perspectives at a BTN Group virtual symposium dedicated
to supporting diversity, equity and inclusion in the corporate travel industry.
 

Understanding the Whole Person

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused employees and employers to
take a step back and look at the bigger picture when it comes to understanding health
matters, whether that means overt or covert health issues and disabilities, and
how they factor into what the company is asking of those workers.

The old adage ‘you have nothing if you don’t have your health’
may be hitting home with companies struggling to find employees to fill open
positions in a tight labor market; or, for that matter, wanting to keep the
high-knowledge workers they already have. They have taken unprecedented measures
to protect worker health, both in the workplace and remote; it’s inevitable that
the focus on health has extended to corporate travel far beyond the traditional
‘duty-of-care’ thresholds that have served travel management for decades.

McIndoe Risk Advisory president Bruce McIndoe said the aperture
is opening regarding what businesses need to consider about employees whether
they are traveling, on assignment or choosing to work remotely in what may
emerge as the age of the mobile workforce as corporations exit the pandemic into
a whole new paradigm for working environments. 

“We need to start to look at the holistic person and not somebody that’s
just getting a ticket on a commercial transport and we’re going to take care of
them,” he said. Going forward, he added, companies will need to consider ethnicity,
religion, disabilities and certain health conditions to engage with the employee
holistically and enable them to work from anywhere, and from any time zone.
“We’re going to be much smarter, holistically, around this incredibly
important asset, which is a person. And how we look at them and how we support
them mentally, physically [and in] all dimensions.” 

Complicating Conditions

During the virtual event, Corgel described the many ways in
which his visual impairment adds complexity to trips. In addition to the
aforementioned tactic for reading airport signs, Corgel must do a significant pre-travel
research to map out ground transport from the arrival airport and find a hotel with
characteristics vital to him, like public transportation and grocery stores
within walking distance. 

“I’m going to Denver fairly soon and have begun to do
that research,” Corgel noted of an upcoming trip. “As of right now, I
can tell you the exact number of blocks I have to travel to get from my hotel
to the emergency operations center where I’ll be working.”

For CLEAR VP of travel partnerships Caitlin Gomez, a major
pre-trip concern is ensuring she has an aisle seat and easy access to bathroom
facilities during flights. Gomez, who had her colon removed in 2017 after
suffering from Crohn’s disease for more than a decade, last year began sharing
her experiences as a frequent traveler with a compromised immune system in a
series of LinkedIn posts. 

“Pre-pandemic, flying was really a challenge for
me,” said Gomez, who despite the difficulties, nonetheless flew once every
three weeks between her home base of New York City and the Bay Area
headquarters of Lyft, for whom she worked at the time as head of corporate
travel partnerships. 

For Gomez, the pressures of those stressful long-distance
trips bookending days crammed full of business meetings led to neglecting both
her mental and physical health—a deleterious effect she didn’t fully realize
until the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic brought that travel to an abrupt halt.

“I never really gave time to myself to recover or put
my health into the mix of the travel schedule,” recalled Gomez. “I
didn’t realize the toll that was taking on my health until we stopped traveling.”

Just as the pandemic served as a wake-up call to Gomez about her own health,
she was optimistic that it also has increased awareness on the part of
corporate travel departments and suppliers about the importance of giving
travelers the necessary tools and accommodations to maintain their own mental
and physical well-being.

“Health is no longer an afterthought, it needs to be in
the forefront. Coming out of Covid, employers and partners will be more
cognizant of that,” Gomez predicted. 

 

Mental Health Matters Gains Profile 

Alongside physical impairments and health issues, deteriorating
mental health conditions have emerged as a major factor impacting the modern
workforce and employers. The World Health Organization estimates that depression
and anxiety lead to $1 trillion lost globally in worker productivity. And that
was the before the Covid-19 crisis. Since then, 75 percent of U.S. workers
surveyed by TELUS International said they had struggled at work due to anxiety
caused by the pandemic and 45 percent of U.S. workers surveyed by Vida Health last
year said they had considered beginning therapy for mental health struggles
during the pandemic. Nearly 90 percent of Vida Health respondents said they had
experienced one or more depression symptoms during Covid-19: loss of interest
in doing things, trouble sleeping, feelings of hopelessness. 

In the UK, a similar study by health insurance company Lime
Group found that more than half of workers surveyed felt they had to hide their
anxieties at work and carry on as though nothing was bothering them. For women,
that number rose to more than 60 percent. Among the TELUS study cohort, 80
percent said they would consider quitting their job for a position that allowed
them to focus more on their mental health. 

Columbia University in 2011 conducted a study that focused specifically
on business traveler health and stress issues. The study linked business travel
to work stress and work stress to increased rates of obesity and cardiovascular
disease. The study projected companies might incorporate stress management into
travel programs for frequent travelers as a strategy to combat pursuant
absenteeism. A 2012 initiative from CWT endeavored to pinpoint the source of stressors
for business travelers with the intent of devising services and solutions that
companies could implement to reduce stressors, including travel policy changes
to provide more on-the-road support rather than cost-cutting on travel that could
result in productivity losses. 

Travel after Covid-19 has leaned hard into the traveler
support over cost-cutting measures—especially as most companies have yet to
recover significant business travel volumes. But as travel resumes in earnest,
it may be critical for companies to get specific about mental health issues
that travelers may experience on the road and what company expectations are of
business travelers struggling to cope with increased anxiety or depression.

VP strategic partnerships for Travel Insured International
and frequent traveler Isaac Cymrot, who has dealt with anxiety and depression
since he was a preteen, emphasized that it is critical for companies to treat mental
health issues the same as physical health issues. Cymrot described himself as “open”
and “gregarious” and said he “loves interacting with people”
and “getting up on stage.” But, he added, there are times when he’s
not in a mental space to do that work—just like when others might not be in a
physical state to do that work. 

“Regardless of what your symptom is or the disability
or however you want to classify it… you need to have that permission to call in
sick,” he said. But given the intangible nature of mental health, employers
need to be explicit that mental health is as important as physical health, and
communicate that to business travelers. Without that permission, he said, the
mental health issues can get compounded.

“There’s that added pressure that I can’t [be sick
because] I’m traveling on somebody else’s money, and I have responsibilities. When
you have anxiety and depression, I don’t know that I can put into words how
crushing it is and how that situation actually just makes [your anxiety]
exponentially worse,” he said. 

Supply-Side Support

Corgel cited Amtrak as a positive example of how suppliers
can get in front of accommodating individual needs. He praised the rail
provider’s booking tool, which asks travelers early in the booking flow whether
they will need any special assistance and, if so, includes follow-up questions regarding
that traveler’s specific requirements. 

“Getting that assistance up front, rather than me
having to dig through the back end of a booking system or a reservation system
to try and get that assistance as an additional step in the process,” eliminates
significant time and stress from the travel process, Corgel said.

The FEMA disaster management specialist urged other end
suppliers and online booking tools to offer similar capabilities for travelers
to identify any special needs and save such information to their profiles so that
they’re applied by default for all bookings. 

Gomez echoed the potential of in-booking flagging tools to offer
much-needed peace of mind to travelers with special needs, citing the ability
to select a plane seat close to a bathroom and ensure bottled filtered water is
provided in a hotel room as two functions that would be particularly helpful to
her personally. 

“These are things you don’t think about until you
actually need them,” said Gomez, urging employers and suppliers to be
cognizant of what could go wrong for travelers with health or mental conditions
and try to head off potential pitfalls—striving to offer a seamless experience
that enables travelers to devote their full energies to conducting
business.  

“Think about what you can do to expedite the travel
process and relax the trip portion so that travelers can really focus on what
they’re going to be traveling somewhere for, and not how they’re going to get
there,” advised Gomez. 

McIndoe sees a future where mental and physical health, different
abilities and other aspects of the “whole person” could become part
of the employee profile and factor into travel bookings from the get-go. This
would allow travel agencies and suppliers to have access to detailed accommodation
information based on physical and mental health issues that may affect the
individual trip—and make those adjustments upfront.  

“Given where we are with privacy… all of this is
predicated on the employee’s choice to disclose,” he said, but the push to
engage holistically with employees and deliver the right workplace solutions
for them is now more than just a concept—more workplaces are looking at it as a
necessity. Delivering on that concept in the managed travel space would be an
industrywide effort across travel program administrators and suppliers if they
so choose to take it on.



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business trip

Companies Pumping the Brakes on Return to Travel


The return of corporate travel is hitting some speed bumps,
with new signs this week indicating that concerns over the lingering Covid-19
pandemic are causing companies and travelers to re-evaluate plans to return to
the road. 

Released today, the latest edition of the Global Business
Travel Association’s monthly global survey of travel professionals, aimed at
gauging the industry’s pandemic recovery, revealed significantly reduced
momentum for the return of corporate travel in the near term. The current iteration of the poll, conducted between Aug. 9 and Aug. 19, garnered responses from 678 travel buyers and suppliers in the U.S. and Canada, Europe and Latin America.

The survey found
that just 40 percent of companies that had ceased domestic travel planned to
resume in-country trips within the next one to three months—down 36 percent from the previous poll, conducted a month earlier. Enthusiasm for
taking up international travel also was on the wane, with just 18 percent of
companies that had suspended crossborder trips planning to resume such
travel—down exactly 33 percent points from last month’s survey. 

Crossborder Travel Lag Not Just a Health Issue

Not only are plans for domestic travel slipping as the delta variant takes hold, the long wait for crossborder traffic–which has yet to stage a significant comeback–may get even longer. Neither the virus, nor the variant is the only obstacle.

“Fragmented
rules and a lack of mutual agreements continue to restrict travel, with travel
restrictions being the second biggest deterrent to travel for 55 percent of
respondents in a GlobalData poll,” said the research company’s associate travel and tourism analyst Gus Gardner, whose poll surveyed all types of travelers, not just business. 

“Travelers
have been left confused over how to provide their vaccination status with
varying rules across destinations. For some destinations, travelers need to
jump through several hoops to prove their status, and if traveling to numerous
countries, the process often differs. Even though it appears restrictions have
eased, the complexity of proving vaccination will continue to be a barrier.”

Gardner continued by calling proof of vaccination an “afterthought” of the vaccine rollout, and the lack of digitalized records in some countries–including the U.S.–will continue to make proving vaccinated status difficult. Though options are available, like the International Air Travel Association’s travel pass and others, the uptake has been poor and there is limited government integration.

 “Unless steps are taken soon, it could potentially suppress
international demand as rules could be too difficult to understand and
destinations’ recovery may stall as a result,” said Gardner. 

The GBTA study also offered some grim insights from
suppliers, with 31 percent of respondents who worked for an air, hotel or
ground transport company reporting that bookings from corporate customers had
decreased over the previous week, while just 24 percent had seen an increase in
corporate sales over that period. That was a stark reversal from the previous
poll, in which just 3 percent of suppliers had seen fewer corporate bookings
and 70 percent reported a rise. 

New data from the Airlines Reporting Corp. further bears out
the recent slowdown in corporate bookings. ARC reported that corporate air
ticket volumes have been dropping significantly over 2019 levels during the
past few weeks. The seven-day period ending Aug. 22 saw 63.5 percent lower
volume that the same period two years ago, continuing weaker sales from the previous
week, during which volume was down 62.4 percent from 2019. Those figures were a
sharp drop-off from late July and early August, during which volumes were down
an average of just 55.3 percent compared to 2019.  

Employee enthusiasm for returning to travel also is on
downward trajectory, according to the latest GBTA study, in which 10 percent of
travel manager respondents felt that their company’s employees as a whole
generally were unwilling to travel. In the prior GBTA poll, just 4 percent of
managers reported such overall sentiment from their employees. 

Within the context of Covid-related concerns, the rise of
the delta variant of the virus—which has been found to be carried by some fully
vaccinated people—has been particularly worrisome for the travel ecosystem as a
whole. In the GBTA survey, 78 percent of all respondents were concerned or very
concerned about the potential effects of the delta variant—and the possibility
of further variants—on the safety of business travel. Meanwhile, 78 percent
were concerned or very concerned about the variants’ effect on sector
employment and 85 percent feared the potential effects of variants on supplier
revenue.

In public comments on Wednesday, American Airlines chief revenue
officer Vasu Raja warned that the delta variant was hindering the carrier’s
August revenue and projected a muted corporate travel recovery over the coming
months.

“This has been, and we expect will continue to be, a
very choppy recovery,” said Raja. “We do anticipate that there will be a …
slower recovery in business demand than what we’ve seen,” he added. 

American’s warning of revenue constraints stemming from the delta
variant followed similar notices made recently by Southwest Airlines, JetBlue,
Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines.



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‘This Could Have Been a Zoom Meeting’: Companies Rethink Travel


The DealBook newsletter delves into a single topic or theme every weekend, providing reporting and analysis that offers a better understanding of an important issue in the news. If you don’t already receive the daily newsletter, sign up here.

David Calhoun, chief executive of Boeing, has access to company aircraft as part of his job. Even so, he told an interviewer that he didn’t expect to fly nearly as much for internal company meetings after the pandemic.

Mr. Calhoun, like some of his peers, found that video calls were remarkably effective for checking in with colleagues, allowing him to pack in more meetings and schedule them with minimal advance notice, according to an account in “Leading at a Distance,” a recent book by James M. Citrin and Darleen DeRosa.

“I will do as much or more customer travel, because that’s still the most important way to build relationships,” Mr. Calhoun told the authors. “But most travel when leading big companies is visiting your own teams. I won’t be doing that nearly as much.”

There’s broad consensus that how often we fly for work and what we travel for will shift significantly post-pandemic. Who is traveling may be different as well. That, in turn, will prompt changes in what the travel industry provides to business people, a source of nearly a third of its revenue before the pandemic.

A year and a half of forgoing virtually all travel and doing business by video conference has led many business people to conclude that a lot of their previous travel wasn’t worth the time and toll on their bodies and mental state, on their families and the environment. That’s even before considering the role that travel played in transmitting the virus across continents.

There’s a popular meme: “This meeting could have been an email.” Those of us who have traveled long distances for a single work meeting know that we could often just as easily say, “This business trip could have been a Zoom call.”

And before travel fully takes off again, some organizations and individuals are taking steps to rein it in. Adding significantly to the pressure are commitments that many companies are making to trim their emissions — goals that often involve slashing the carbon footprint of employees’ business travel.

One scenario is what Mr. Calhoun suggested: Companies could dramatically reduce whole categories of travel, such as in-person meetings with internal colleagues in other cities. A Wall Street Journal analysis last year, for example, estimated that intra-company meetings and training represented 20 percent of all business travel and predicted that 40 to 60 percent of that would go away permanently. The Journal concluded that 19 to 36 percent of business trips would disappear. Bill Gates predicted at DealBook’s conference last fall that business travel would still be more than 50 percent lower once things normalized.

In contrast with domestic leisure travel, which has largely recovered, business travel has been relatively slow in coming back. Just 9 percent of companies say they’ve resumed their pre-pandemic travel levels, according to a recent survey by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. United Airlines and Delta Air Lines both recently said that business travel remains about 60 percent lower than pre-pandemic levels, despite an increase in recent months. Rising coronavirus cases in recent weeks could delay the recovery of business travel further.

But Mr. Calhoun’s plan to reduce his own internal travel echoes the results of the accountants association’s survey, which found that two-thirds of companies were allowing travel for sales or client meetings, with fewer permitting travel for internal purposes or training programs.

Early indications suggest that most businesses will be reluctant to dramatically trim the estimated two-thirds of business travel that involves sales calls and client visits, conferences and professional services like consulting. Executives remain wary of losing out to a rival who actually shows up in person, or seeing an important contract go away because of poor virtual communications. Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, said in May that clients told him his bank lost business when “bankers from the other guys visited, and ours didn’t.”

Scott Kirby, chief executive of United, earlier this year predicted “full recovery in business demand because business travel is about relationships.” Speaking with investors via a conference call, he added, “You cannot build human relationships through a medium like this.”

Others also see the potential for corporate travel to swell, as increasingly dispersed workers need to reassemble regularly.

“The thing that we describe as business travel may actually grow in the future years,” said Lindsay Nelson, chief experience and brand officer at Tripadvisor, the online travel company. “But the kinds of people that are traveling and what they’re traveling for is going to change.”

Ms. Nelson predicted that remote-work arrangements mean that more employees will travel back to their corporate offices. So rather than an elite subset of employees flying out from a headquarters constantly, a greater percentage of workers will be flying into headquarters or offsite meeting locations to convene with each other.

Such a shift could lead hotels and airlines to rethink their loyalty programs, which have typically catered to the intense road-warrior traveler, to attract the business of regular, but less frequent travelers. Ms. Nelson said that such travelers might look for different perks, such as an extension of the flexible flight cancellation terms that prevailed during the pandemic. Another trend the industry could cater to: Nearly 90 percent of business travelers surveyed by SAP Concur recently said they plan to attach personal vacation time to their business trips in the next year.

But rather than just accept that business travel will rebound, companies can use the change in practices of the past year to open a new chapter for how they approach it. A compelling reason for doing so is the environmental impact, especially as organizations pursue reductions in their climate footprints.

Commercial air travel is responsible for about 3 to 4 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. First-class travel, because of the lower density of seating, can result inasmuch as four times the emissions as sitting in the back of the plane.

At the Zurich reinsurance company Swiss Re, for example, flights represented about two-thirds of its operational carbon footprint. As part of its net-zero emissions efforts, the company used the drop in corporate travel last year as an opportunity to more permanently reduce its carbon footprint. Its employees’ air travel fell about 80 percent from 2018 levels last year and it expects a drop of 30 percent or more from the 2018 baseline this year.

Swiss Re in January began adding a significant carbon emissions surcharge onto flights purchased by its 13,200 employees — representing roughly $500 on top of the price of a Zurich to New York plane ticket. Team budgets can absorb these charges — which Swiss Re uses to fund carbon offsets and removal — since its employees are flying less.

But as travel comes back and the surcharges pinch into budgets, the goal is to force employees to think harder when they’re booking a trip about whether it’s actually necessary.

“We still need to travel to meet clients — but maybe not as frequently,” said Mischa Repmann, senior environmental management specialist at Swiss Re. “We can merge trips, we can travel more mindfully than in the past.”

Other companies are heading in a similar direction. Salesforce in April announced plans to cut its own business travel carbon emissions as a ratio of its revenue by 50 percent from 2019 levels. Deloitte unveiled a goal of cutting business travel emissions per employee by 50 percent by 2030. EY’s goal is to cut business travel emissions by 35 percent from fiscal year 2019 to 2025.

In addition to reducing the number of flights, businesses are using calculators to determine the least emissions-intensive locations for meetings, such as ones some participants can reach by train. And some are experimenting with “cluster meetings,” where attendees assemble in nearby hub locations and connect virtually with those in other regional clusters.

The environmentalist and author Paul Hawken calls flying long distances for business meetings “a catastrophically monumental waste of resources” and argues that companies would do better with less corporate travel. “We just got a good lesson in how to be effective without moving protoplasm around,” he said.

It would be easy for organizations to revert to their old practices, and probably many will. But their environmental targets will push some companies to rethink who travels and why. And while we know well the limits of video meetings, there are compelling reasons to forgo some travel and resign ourselves to settling in on Zoom.

Mr. Delaney is co-founder and editor in chief of Charter, a media and services company focused on transforming workplaces.

What do you think? Should companies cut back on business travel indefinitely? How? Let us know: dealbook@nytimes.com.



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TikTok’s AI is now available to other companies


TikTok’s AI is no longer a secret — in fact, it’s now on the open market. The Financial Times has learned that parent company ByteDance quietly launched a BytePlus division that sells TikTok technology, including the recommendation algorithm. Customers can also buy computer vision tech, real-time effects and automated translations, among other features.

BytePlus debuted in June and is based in Singapore, although it has presences in Hong Kong and London. The company is looking to register trademarks in the US, although it’s not certain if the firm has an American presence at this stage.

There are already at least a few customers. The American fashion app Goat is already using BytePlus code, as are the Indonesian online shopping company Chilibeli and the travel site WeGo.

ByteDance wouldn’t comment on its plans for BytePlus.

A move like this wouldn’t be surprising, even if it might remove some of TikTok’s cachet. It could help ByteDance compete with Amazon, Microsoft and other companies selling behind-the-scenes tools to businesses. It might also serve as a hedge. TikTok and its Chinese counterpart Douyin might be close to plateauing, and selling their tech could keep the money flowing.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.



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Vacations turning into nightmares as travel companies fail to meet demand


CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP/KSNW) — Mega-heatwaves have baked the country this season, with some forty-million people experiencing spikes into the triple digits. Some areas in the western U.S. saw temperatures 15-to-20 degrees above average over the past week, complicating drought and energy shortages.

In Massachusetts, energy consumption is approximately 40% greater during the hot summer months. If you’re not conserving energy, the temperatures may not be the only thing rising—so could your energy bill if you’re trying to beat the heat. To keep your bill low, try keeping your air conditioner setting as warm as possible. For every degree higher on the thermostat, the air conditioner will use 1% to 3% less electricity.



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Airlines, holiday companies ramp up pressure on Britain to ease travel rules


LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s airlines and holiday companies are planning a “day of action” on Wednesday to ramp up pressure on the government to ease travel restrictions, with just weeks to go before the start of the peak summer season.

Travel companies, whose finances have been stretched to breaking point during the pandemic, are desperate to avoid another summer lost to COVID-19. But with Britain’s strict quarantine requirements still in place that now looks likely.

As the clock ticks down to July, Europe’s biggest airline Ryanair and Manchester Airports Group on Thursday launched legal action to try to get the government to ease the rules before the industry’s most profitable season starts.

On Wednesday, June 23, pilots, cabin crew and travel agents will gather in Westminster, central London, and at airports across Britain to try to drum up support.

Britain’s aviation industry has been harder hit by the pandemic than its European peers, according to data published by pilots trade union BALPA on Sunday.

That showed daily arrivals and departures into the United Kingdom were down 73% on an average day earlier this month compared to before the pandemic, the biggest drop in Europe. Spain, Greece and France were down less than 60%.

UK airports were also badly affected, with traffic in and out of London’s second busiest airport Gatwick down 92%, according to the data.

Time is running out for the industry, said the union.

“There is no time to hide behind task forces and reviews,” said BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton.

“BALPA is demanding that the UK Government gets its act together and opens the U.S. routes and European holiday travel destinations that it has blocked with no published evidence at all.”

Over 45,000 jobs have already been lost in UK aviation, with estimates suggesting that 860,000 aviation, travel and tourism jobs are being sustained only by government furlough schemes.

(Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Mark Potter)



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U.S. companies can mandate vaccinations; holiday travel


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A international political struggle to control the narrative of coronavirus is growing as the United States, Europe, and China focus on investigating the origins of the COVID-19 instead of solving other problems perpetuating the global pandemic. (May 26)

AP Domestic

U.S. companies can mandate that employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced in a Friday statement.

Federal EEO laws do not prevent employers from requiring that all employees physically entering a workplace be vaccinated as long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws, according to the statement.

Employers may also offer incentives to employees to get vaccinated, “as long as the incentives are not coercive,” the statement said.

“Because vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, a very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information,” according to the statement.

“The updated technical assistance released today addresses frequently asked questions concerning vaccinations in the employment context,” EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in the statement. “The EEOC will continue to clarify and update our COVID-19 technical assistance to ensure that we are providing the public with clear, easy to understand, and helpful information.”

Also in the news:

► The Department of Veterans Affairs lifted all restrictions on gathering sizes, as well as mask and social distancing requirements, for fully vaccinated people at national veterans cemeteries ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

Carnival Cruise Line, Carnival Corp.’s flagship line, may soon be able to set sail with passengers on board. The cruise line is the latest to receive the green light from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on portions of its restart plans as it prepares to set sail in U.S. waters after forming agreements with three home ports.

► CVS is offering a chance to win a trip to the Super Bowl, a Bermuda vacation, or cash prizes to bring in more customers for COVID-19 vaccinations. Kroger is also offering customers, workers, or individuals who get the shot the chance to win $1 million or free groceries for a year.

► President Joe Biden started the Memorial Day weekend by visiting a rock climbing gym in northern Virginia as the state lifted all COVID-19 distancing and capacity restrictions at private businesses.

The European Union’s medicines agency has approved the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-old children, making it the first vaccine allowed for this age group in the EU.

Eli Lilly paused distribution of its monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 in eight states over concerns that it is not as effective against virus variants. The pause is not related to the safety of the treatment.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 593,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 169.5 million cases and 3.5 million deaths. More than 133.5 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 40% of the population.

📘 What we’re reading: A year after experiencing one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation, Navajo Nation leaders are keeping mask restrictions and social distancing despite a high COVID-19 vaccination rate and CDC recommendations. Read the full story.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Tennessee hat shop under fire for Star of David ‘Not Vaccinated” patch

A Nashville, Tennessee, hat seller removed an Instagram post after fueling social media controversy for selling a patch that looks like the Jewish Star of David.

HatWRKS, run by hatmaker Gigi Gaskins, posted a photo of a woman wearing a bright yellow star sticker with the words: “Not Vaccinated.”

Social media users responded with the hashtag #HateWorks, calling the patch anti-Semitic and “disgusting.” The original Instagram post had thousands of comments before being taken down.

Approximately 6 million Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust, when Nazis forced Jews to identify themselves by wearing a yellow six-pointed star.

The business responded with an Instagram statement defending the move: 

“People are so outraged by my post? But are you outraged with the tyranny the world is experiencing? If you don’t understand what is happening, that is on you not me. I pay much more respect to history by standing up with the fallen than offering silence and compliance.”

— Sandy Mazza, Nashville Tennessean

Vietnam says new variant is highly contagious

Vietnam has detected a new coronavirus variant that lab tests say might spread more easily than other virus variants, Vietnamese Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said Saturday.

Scientists who examined the genetic makeup of the virus say the variant is a hybrid of strains first found in India and the UK, Long said.

Long said the new variant may be responsible for a surge in cases in Vietnam as the country has confirmed more than 3,500 new cases and 12 deaths in the last few weeks. The surge has prompted nationwide bans on religious events and other large gatherings, as well as the closing of public parks and non-essential businesses such as restaurants, bars, clubs and spas.

It is common for viruses to develop small genetic changes as they reproduce. The World Health Organization has listed four global “variants of concern” – the two first found in the U.K. and India, plus ones identified in South Africa and Brazil.

Vaccinations help fuel Memorial Day travel spike

Americans hit the road in near-record numbers at the start of the Memorial Day weekend, as their eagerness to break free from coronavirus confinement overcame higher prices for flights, gasoline and hotels.

More than 1.8 million people went through U.S. airports Thursday, and the daily number was widely expected to cross 2 million at least once over the long holiday weekend, which would be the highest mark since early March 2020.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned people to expect long lines at airports and appealed for travelers to be patient.

The rise in travel appears to be fueled by an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations as well as an improving economy. The U.S. Commerce Department said consumer spending increased in April, although not as much as in March, showing how consumers are driving a recovery from last year’s pandemic recession.

— Associated Press

South Dakota conference could undermine vaccine efforts, experts fear

The Advanced Medicine Conference opened Friday at the Sioux Falls Convention Center in South Dakota – and the state’s medical professionals aren’t happy about it.

Here’s why: The four-day convention features social media health influencers who critics say are responsible for peddling pseudoscience and COVID-19 conspiracy theories that could further jeopardize virus control measures.

“We are on the threshold of potentially moving forward and going back to our normalcy with COVID-19 vaccines,” said Dr. Santiago Lopez of Immunize South Dakota, a coalition of health care professionals, advocates, scientists, parents and community members. “So these types of meetings and conferences where they make false statements about the safety and efficacy of vaccine can lead toward people not getting vaccinated … and not getting herd immunity.”

The conference, expected to draw about 1,200 attendees, features dozens of speakers who have been identified as originating sources for various myths and untruths about the coronavirus pandemic and the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

The AMC had previously hosted its annual event in Charlotte, North Carolina, but moved this year to South Dakota “which does NOT oppose our belief systems, philosophies and ability think and will allow us to have an event free of political rhetoric, medical myths, unscientific extrapolations and biased conclusions,” according to its website. Tickets range from $120 to $2,300.

Another drug may join list of FDA-authorized COVID treatments

Biopharmaceutical company Humanigen submitted their drug Lenzilumab to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization to treat hospitalized patients with COVID-19, the company announced Friday.

If authorized, the drug will join a growing list of treatments authorized by the FDA for COVID-19. Lenzilumab focuses on preventing and treating an overactive immune response commonly known as a “cytokine storm,” which causes the immune system to kill both healthy and diseased tissue. 

In a Phase 3 study, the drug improved the likelihood of survival without ventilation by 54% in newly hospitalized patients. Survival improved by 92% in patients who also took certain steroids and remdesivir. 

“There is a need for hospitalized patients who require supplementary oxygen,” said Dr. Cameron Durrant, Humanigen’s chief executive officer. “Treatments can be lifesaving; despite vaccinations, infections and significant breakthrough disease will continue.”

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Return to normalcy means colds and sore throats are back

There’s a downside to returning to pre-COVID-19 hygiene habits. Normalcy has also brought the return of colds, sore throats and the sniffles, doctors say.

“People are taking off their masks, they’re no longer socially distancing, they’re not washing their hands as much, and they’re getting sick again,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, CEO of Mount Sinai hospital in South Nassau, New York. 

Getting back to normal “comes at a price,” said Glatt, who is also a fellow with the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

After a year of almost no colds, no runny noses and no watery eyes, the minor viruses kept in control by COVID-19 restrictions are making a comeback. 

Of most importance was influenza, which was at an all-time low this year. The flu season ends in April or May, so it’s not likely to rear up during the summer. But other annoying, though less dangerous viruses, are still out there.

— Elizabeth Weise

Contributing: Joe Sneve, Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader; The Associated Press

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A international political struggle to control the narrative of coronavirus is growing as the United States, Europe, and China focus on investigating the origins of the COVID-19 instead of solving other problems perpetuating the global pandemic. (May 26)

AP Domestic

U.S. companies can mandate that employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced in a Friday statement.

Federal EEO laws do not prevent employers from requiring that all employees physically entering a workplace be vaccinated as long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws, according to the statement.

Employers may also offer incentives to employees to get vaccinated, “as long as the incentives are not coercive,” the statement said.

“Because vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, a very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information,” according to the statement.

“The updated technical assistance released today addresses frequently asked questions concerning vaccinations in the employment context,” EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in the statement. “The EEOC will continue to clarify and update our COVID-19 technical assistance to ensure that we are providing the public with clear, easy to understand, and helpful information.”

Also in the news:

Carnival Cruise Line, Carnival Corp.’s flagship line, may soon be able to set sail with passengers on board. The cruise line is the latest to receive the green light from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on portions of its restart plans as it prepares to set sail in U.S. waters after forming agreements with three home ports.

► CVS is offering a chance to win a trip to the Super Bowl, a Bermuda vacation, or cash prizes to bring in more customers for COVID-19 vaccinations. Kroger is also offering customers, workers, or individuals who get the shot the chance to win $1 million or free groceries for a year.

► President Joe Biden started the Memorial Day weekend by visiting a rock climbing gym in northern Virginia as the state lifted all COVID-19 distancing and capacity restrictions at private businesses.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 593,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 169.5 million cases and 3.5 million deaths. More than 133.5 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 40% of the population.

📘 What we’re reading: A year after experiencing one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation, Navajo Nation leaders are keeping mask restrictions and social distancing despite a high COVID-19 vaccination rate and CDC recommendations. Read the full story.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Vaccinations help fuel Memorial Day travel spike

Americans hit the road in near-record numbers at the start of the Memorial Day weekend, as their eagerness to break free from coronavirus confinement overcame higher prices for flights, gasoline and hotels.

More than 1.8 million people went through U.S. airports Thursday, and the daily number was widely expected to cross 2 million at least once over the long holiday weekend, which would be the highest mark since early March 2020.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned people to expect long lines at airports and appealed for travelers to be patient.

The rise in travel appears to be fueled by an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations as well as an improving economy. The U.S. Commerce Department said consumer spending increased in April, although not as much as in March, showing how consumers are driving a recovery from last year’s pandemic recession.

— Associated Press

South Dakota conference could undermine vaccine efforts, experts fear

The Advanced Medicine Conference opened Friday at the Sioux Falls Convention Center in South Dakota – and the state’s medical professionals aren’t happy about it.

Here’s why: The four-day convention features social media health influencers who critics say are responsible for peddling pseudoscience and COVID-19 conspiracy theories that could further jeopardize virus control measures.

“We are on the threshold of potentially moving forward and going back to our normalcy with COVID-19 vaccines,” said Dr. Santiago Lopez of Immunize South Dakota, a coalition of health care professionals, advocates, scientists, parents and community members. “So these types of meetings and conferences where they make false statements about the safety and efficacy of vaccine can lead toward people not getting vaccinated … and not getting herd immunity.”

The conference, expected to draw about 1,200 attendees, features dozens of speakers who have been identified as originating sources for various myths and untruths about the coronavirus pandemic and the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

The AMC had previously hosted its annual event in Charlotte, North Carolina, but moved this year to South Dakota “which does NOT oppose our belief systems, philosophies and ability think and will allow us to have an event free of political rhetoric, medical myths, unscientific extrapolations and biased conclusions,” according to its website. Tickets range from $120 to $2,300.

Another drug may join list of FDA-authorized COVID treatments

Biopharmaceutical company Humanigen submitted their drug Lenzilumab to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization to treat hospitalized patients with COVID-19, the company announced Friday.

If authorized, the drug will join a growing list of treatments authorized by the FDA for COVID-19. Lenzilumab focuses on preventing and treating an overactive immune response commonly known as a “cytokine storm,” which causes the immune system to kill both healthy and diseased tissue. 

In a Phase 3 study, the drug improved the likelihood of survival without ventilation by 54% in newly hospitalized patients. Survival improved by 92% in patients who also took certain steroids and remdesivir. 

“There is a need for hospitalized patients who require supplementary oxygen,” said Dr. Cameron Durrant, Humanigen’s chief executive officer. “Treatments can be lifesaving; despite vaccinations, infections and significant breakthrough disease will continue.”

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Return to normalcy means colds and sore throats are back

There’s a downside to returning to pre-COVID-19 hygiene habits. Normalcy has also brought the return of colds, sore throats and the sniffles, doctors say.

“People are taking off their masks, they’re no longer socially distancing, they’re not washing their hands as much, and they’re getting sick again,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, CEO of Mount Sinai hospital in South Nassau, New York. 

Getting back to normal “comes at a price,” said Glatt, who is also a fellow with the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

After a year of almost no colds, no runny noses and no watery eyes, the minor viruses kept in control by COVID-19 restrictions are making a comeback. 

Of most importance was influenza, which was at an all-time low this year. The flu season ends in April or May, so it’s not likely to rear up during the summer. But other annoying, though less dangerous viruses, are still out there.

— Elizabeth Weise

Contributing: Joe Sneve, Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader; The Associated Press

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